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updated: 3/18/2017 6:23 PM

Girls soccer: DiBiase goal lifts Batavia past WW South

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By Bill Stone
Daily Herald Correspondent

For the second year in a row, Batavia girls soccer player Gracey DiBiase initiated a restart that led to a goal against a tough Wheaton Warrenville South defense.

On Saturday the junior central defender's free kick from 25 yards out was headed home by senior Mackenzie Foster with 3:58 left to give the Bulldogs a 2-1 victory in Wheaton in the season opener for both teams.

"I'm very proud of my team. We worked really hard and especially for this, for our first game," DiBiase said.

The left-footed DiBiase was on goal from the left side of the field. WW South goalkeeper Abbie Brennan punched the high shot into the air, but Foster converted the rebound coming down.

"(Batavia coach Mark Gianfrancesco) told me to take it on the left side. It's hard for a lefty, but I was aiming for the right upper 90," DiBiase said. "Mackenzie was on the back of that to follow that in and it was great. It was wonderful."

The Bulldogs had many challenges to overcome. The Tigers had the wind for the second half and some momentum after their first shot on goal by sophomore Paige Miller tied the game with 36 minutes still left.

Batavia has 10 seniors, but like the Tigers, the Bulldogs graduated about half of their starting lineup, including three college-bound players.

"(It helps) just seeing some girls in an actually competitive situation. I thought predominantly we reacted pretty well, especially after getting scored on," Gianfrancesco said. "I like to see that, especially early. How do we react? Do we put our head down? In that regard I think we turned it up a notch and started pressing them a little bit more and creating more chances."

Miller scored by cutting inside a defender left of goal to convert a beautiful right-wing cross by sophomore Allie Anderson from 35 yards out. In the final seconds the speedy Miller nearly converged on a lead pass to tie the game, but Batavia senior goalkeeper Jenny Scara rushed to suffocate the opportunity.

Miller, Anderson and Brennan are among five returning starters for the Tigers, who started seven sophomores and a freshman.

"The positive is we get a pretty good picture of where we're at," WW South coach Guy Callipari said. "We never really got into the flow of play. We just looked disconnected, but that's what you would expect Day One. Yeah, we are (young), but you can't keep using that as an excuse. You've got to step up and play at the end of the day. We'll get there eventually."  

Batavia also overcame losing starting senior center midfielder Cameron Hindel for the game after her head collided with a WW South player going for a 50-50 ball 5:20 before halftime.

Starting junior center midfielder Anna Rakos then was joined inside by sophomore Jenna Nichols. Energetic senior forward Keegan Maris also dropped back to make several runs and passes.

An unmarked Rakos put Batavia ahead 1-0 four minutes before halftime off a right-wing cross by senior Alex Piron.

"That (injury) was really bad, especially in the first half," DiBiase said. "I thought that our whole center mid was going to be off, but we picked it up. We knew what we had to do and we still played great."

In 2016 the 14-7-3 Tigers allowed just 13 goals all season and three came against Batavia in their season opener. The Bulldogs won what was their second game 3-1 with the last goal coming off a DiBiase corner kick.

Batavia went on to finish 15-5-1 and record 12 shutouts. Both teams lost in their respective regional finals on overtime penalty kicks.

"Obviously, it's a marathon not a sprint so we've got a lot to do," Gianfrancesco said. "Guy's got a young team, but obviously they're looking to play feet and knock it around and that tests us in what we need to do as well."

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