Undefeated Buffalo Grove drew 1-1 with Batavia in a hard-fought 80-minute girls soccer contest Thursday afternoon. In doing so, the Bison won their third consecutive team title at the annual Lake Park Early Bird Invite, played at Olympic Park in Schaumburg.
The Bison (5-0-1), who earlier in the week handled Glenbard South 7-0, needed only a draw to earn the tournament title.
The Bulldogs (2-0-2) understood coming in that they'd need their best effort to defeat BG, which had outscored five previous opponents 21-1.
"We knew that Buffalo Grove was a very technical team which liked to get forward, and you saw, especially in the first half when we didn't control the middle -- particularly Nos. 7 (Jessica Kovach) and No. 9 (Skylar Groth) -- just how much trouble they could create," said Batavia coach Mark Gianfrancesco.
Batavia has 8 freshmen and sophomores on the varsity roster. That includes freshman striker Megan McEachern, who looks to have all the tools to be the type of player Gianfrancesco can build around.
The diminutive duo of Kovach and Groth, who might just be one of the top attacking combos in the area, had their opponents in their own end for the better part of the first quarter-hour, but the Bison were unable to take advantage of the openings the central attackers created.
Kelli Zickert gave BG the lead at 20 minutes with a smooth touch after a marvelous helper from Allie Ingham past keeper Jenny Welday, who shared time between the sticks with Nicki Seiton.
A ball over the top from out of the back split a pair of Bison defenders, and a clever Grace Andrews put her shot up quickly in hopes of getting over keeper Sarah O'Connor, who had ventured off her line. But the 30th-minute attempt was wide of the bar.
That was about it for the Bulldogs in the first period as the Bison continued to play through Kovich, Groth and Kim Herzog up the flank, but Batavia absorbed all the pressure, which allowed them to go into the break with just 1 goal against them.
"We would have liked to get another one into the net, but Batavia was a very tough and physical team, and they made us work hard for everything we got today," said Bison coach Pat Dudle, who was without five key players, including starting back-liner JJ Lowery.
Kelli Zickert went close twice in the early stages of the second period, while teammate Megan Gardner, off the counter, was wide with her shot in the 50th minute.
Batavia tied it when Alexis Bryl got a free kick at the top of the box. The Batavia sophomore drove her low, well-placed spot kick through the Bison wall and into the back of the net.
Bryl, Shelby Stone and Brittany Wahlen, who gave the Bison fits with her flip throws, finally were able to get the BG midfield under wraps, and for the final 20 minutes of regulation, the Bulldogs had the better part of the play. They might have scored another goal if not for O'Connor's athletic efforts.
When another long throw from Wahlen found its way into the box, McEachern, and later Wahlen herself, saw O'Connor go airborn to turn away both shots with acrobatic saves.
The speed of play increased as both teams tried for a go-ahead goal, keeping the crowd on the edge until the final whistle.
"The key was for us to finally control the middle, to get the ball up top for our players and to create an attack, and be dangerous, and for that, I was very pleased with our play all the way around in the second half," said Gianfrancesco, whose team plays Saturday at St. Charles East.
"One of our goals this year is to win tournaments," said Dudle, "and today, we were able to do so despite being short-handed, and playing against a quality side like Batavia which plays so hard.
"We've got a busy, and big week ahead of us beginning with Fremd next Wednesday, and we know they will come at us and play us hard from start to finish."Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.