Boys soccer: Underdog Batavia captures regional title

 
By Steve Nemeth
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 10/19/2018 11:18 PM

How often has it been said that everyone is 0-0 for the postseason?

Perhaps Batavia's .294 regular-season win percentage or going 2-2-2 in the inaugural year of the new DuKane Conference don't qualify as memorable.

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Oh but the postseason continues to be amazing.

Those underdog Bulldogs -- seeded 16th out of 19 schools within the 3A Geneva sectional -- are 2-0 in the playoffs and own a regional plaque following Friday's 3-1 triumph over Lockport.

"So many of us have been playing together since third grade, so winning a regional as seniors feels amazing," Max Hardin said with a grin.

"This is huge for us," fellow senior Carter Craney added. "It's our first in three years and I'm sure out of all the teams winning a regional, we might be the least expected."

Considering Batavia (5-10-4) hasn't had back-to-back wins until now, that's probably true. The Bulldogs used home-field advantage to surprise a pair of 15-win teams; initially posting a 1-0 shutout of fourth-seeded Oswego East (15-6-2) and then denying Lockport (15-3), which was anticipating a regional for the first time since 2014.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Instead Batavia gained a fourth regional crown under coach Mark Gianfrancesco and this one was produced by an abundance of heart and hustle. Lockport came in averaging 3.8 goals per match but Batavia's defense limited the Porters to five overall attempts, only one of which was on goal in the opening half.

The Bulldogs gained a 1-0 lead with 9:37 left before halftime when Craney launched a 58-yarder that not only curved but took an odd bounce resulting in the ball slipping through Lockport goalie Jacques Roche's hands. Roche desperately lunged after the ball but not soon enough to prevent it from crossing the line.

"It wasn't on purpose," Craney admitted. "He had been way out all game and I was trying to play more of a diagonal but it went off the side of my foot. All I know is it's my first goal and what a great feeling to have your teammates rushing to you."

The Porters came out aggressive and physical to start the second half but Batavia goalie Jacob Mefford and the Bulldog back line fought off a variety of challenges and shots. On a counter attack, workhorse Miguel Garcia sent a textbook cross leading to Hardin's fifth goal.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Miguel was out wide and took it to the end line and played me a dime," Hardin said. "It felt too easy."

Lockport upped its offensive attack and it paid off when Jayson Iniguez sent a 26-yard rocket that ricocheted off the right post and in with 10:43 left in regulation. Emboldened by that goal, the Porters pressed harder for an equalizer but that led to a Batavia corner that resulted in a corner kick.

When Lockport failed to make a clean clear, the Bulldogs' Drew Lillig earned his second assist for the season with a cross that Garcia headed home with 2:12 remaining. It was the senior forward's fifth goal to go with two assists.

"I had one just like that in the last game and it hit the crossbar, so this time I made sure it would go in," Garcia said. "It definitely felt like that (3-1 lead) made it a safe win."

It's safe to say the Bulldogs are now even bigger underdogs for Tuesday's 4:30 p.m. sectional semifinal against top seed Naperville North. The Huskies -- a perfect 21-0 -- chalked up their 18th shutout of the year and the consensus national No. 1-ranked prep squad is seeking a third consecutive 3A championship.

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