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updated: 4/19/2014 8:25 PM

St. Charles East answers Batavia's challenge

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By Darryl Mellema
Daily Herald Correspondent

Just 2 minutes before halftime, and 1 minute after falling behind at rival Batavia, St. Charles East's girls soccer team increased its work rate to previously unseen levels on Saturday afternoon.

The result was a game-tying goal, a scrambling, scruffy goal which Rion Gaffney forced over the line at the right post.

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That goal turned the tide irretrievably in favor of the visitors, who went to win the Upstate Eight Conference River Division contest 2-1 thanks to a highlight reel header from Kelli Santo Paolo from a Shannon Rasmussen cross.

The victory completes a perfect three-match week for St. Charles East (7-1-2) since their 1-0 defeat to Geneva.

"It's one of those where it's a conference game," St. Charles East coach Paul Jennison said. "It's not all about playing pretty soccer all the time."

For much of the first half, Batavia (4-5-1) maintained possession and worked the ball toward St. Charles East's goal. Sixteen minutes into the match Karina Rosales rattled the crossbar and Kim Stanczak's rebound effort was saved by Saints keeper Kendra Sheehan.

With 12 minutes left in the half, Alexis Bryl combined with Rosales on the right wing, and Mallory Mollenhauer had to clear a dangerous cross from inside the 6-yard box.

St. Charles East created its chances too. Ten minutes into the match, Darcy Cunningham sent a low shot toward goal and Lauren Suhi made the save. Eight minutes before halftime, Santo Paolo hit a shot directly at Suhi.

With halftime approaching, Batavia took the lead. Mackenzie Foster sent a long "up-and-under" ball toward the top of the St. Charles East penalty area. Megan McEachern raced to reach the ball. A Saints defender fell and McEachern had only Sheehan to beat -- which she did with 3:12 left in the half.

"She did a nice job on that -- it was a nice finish," Gianfrancesco said. "I thought we had a better run of the play in the first half. They started challenging us, but at least we were challenging for 50-50 balls and winning balls. The second half, not so much."

St. Charles East regrouped immediately, put the ball dangerously into the penalty area and Gaffney got the ball into the net just 51 seconds after McEachern's goal.

"You're not going to get the opportunity to play the way we'd like all the time," Jennison said. "In the first half, I thought (Batavia) used the elements well and played to their strengths. Everything we did was in our own half."

Gaffney's goal changed the momentum of the match. Batavia was unable to go into halftime with a lead and the Saints were able to regroup with the scores level.

"It's massive," Jennison said. "To be honest with you, as much as we had the ball, it was all down in our defensive area. Going in at 1-1 is a far better team talk than 1-0. I thought that was definitely a bonus."

From the opening kickoff of the second half, St. Charles East moved to attack, and Batavia's offensive chances dwindled. Four minutes into the half, Cunningham sent the ball to Sonia Ost, who headed wide. Six minutes later Cunningham hit a right wing corner kick that second half Batavia keeper Jenny Scara palmed from the penalty area.

At nearly the midpoint of the half, St. Charles East organized the match-winning move. A ball from midfield found Cunningham free on the left wing. She had time to look up, see Santo Paolo free in the penalty area. Cunningham's cross was powered back across the goal by Santo Paolo, with the ball entering the net at the left post.

"It feels really rewarding," Santo Paolo said. "I was playing outside mid, and after so many crosses and not finishing, it was nice to finish one. We possessed the ball through the whole game, and it was like, 'finally we have a lead.'"

Santo Paolo knew she was unmarked as she moved to meet Rasmussen's cross.

"No one was on me, so I took my time with it," Santo Paolo said. "It just went in perfectly. I kind of leaned back and hit it."

The move drew praise from Jennison, both for the approach play and the finish.

"The second goal was everything we're all about," he said. "We had a great through ball, a great cross and a bullet header. You can't really argue with that."

At that point, St. Charles East's central midfield pair of Amanda Hilton and Anna Corirosi took control. Despite being outnumbered 3-2 in that area of the pitch, the Saints tandem kept control of the match and kept Batavia from mounting attacks.

"In the second half, we were able to advance the ball more," Jennison said. "I thought we connected nicely up the field. I felt we did a good job, especially, creating opportunities."

When Batavia did move beyond midfield, the Saints defense handled the pressure.

"I've got to give credit to all the girls in the back," Jennison said. "Sara Buetow is half (Ost's) height and I don't see many tougher girls in there. She's like a tank in there, winning the ball."

The Bulldogs had a late push for an equalizer in the final five minutes of the match, but the Saints secured the victory.

"They picked up the intensity and wanted the 50-50 balls," Gianfrancesco said. "They were more physical, won the 50-50 balls and made themselves available for passes. That was huge for them."

While seeing some response was pleasing, Gianfrancesco said he'd hoped it would have come earlier in the half.

"We didn't come out the second half the way we did in the first half," Gianfrancesco said. "Our most intense part of the half was the last minute and a half. The intensity was not there second half. It's unfortunate, but it's a learning lesson. It's fixable."

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