Will battling for a regional title be more important than squaring off for the Upstate Eight Conference crown?
That’s the question Batavia and Neuqua Valley will answer in Saturday’s 7 p.m. showdown of the Class 3A Metea Valley Regional championship game. The rematch 10 days later is a result of both teams taking care of business in Tuesday’s semifinals.
Batavia, the second seed within the 19-school Bolingbrook Sectional, dispatched 15th-seeded Plainfield East 3-0. Seventh-seeded Neuqua Valley had to earn a 2-1 win over Metea Valley, which showed far more resolve than its seed as ninth.
“Our goal was to take care of business [Tuesday] so we can focus on another game we want even more,” Batavia coach Mark Gianfrancesco said after the Bulldogs recovered from a 3-1 loss to Neuqua, which ended a 15-match unbeaten (12-0-3) string.
Batavia (17-2-3) took the lead 4:45 into the game as Ian Larson’s corner kick became his team-best 15th assist thanks to Kevin Collins’ seven-yard header. It was his fifth goal of the year and fifth game-winner.
“There’s a sense of satisfaction that comes from constantly practicing something and having it work in a match,” Collins said. “It tells us we’re definitely working on the right stuff.”
With 14:11 left before halftime, Luke Laurich’s head flick enabled Adam Heinz to blast home a six-yarder for his fourth goal.
“We work on corners and know that if it goes far post, then we have someone crash the near post looking for a flick back to that side, and that’s exactly what Luke did for me,” Heinz said.
Larson upped his season goal count to 23 via a 26-yard direct kick with 26:23 still to play for the three-goal lead. The loss snapped a four-game win streak for theBengals (7-11), who had managed each victory the result of a penalty kick shootout.
Neuqua Valley’s Ryan Ross manuevered around a defender for a nine-yard shot and a 1-0 lead six minutes before halftime. Metea Valley’s aggressive second-half start produced an equalizer at 47:32 when Estaban Castillo’s second assist set up Jake Celinski’s nine-yard header and team-best sixth goal.
“I saw their keeper and knew as soon as I headed it we had the goal,” Celinski said. “We played hard and made them earn it.”
“I asked them to leave it all on the field and they did that,” Metea coach Josh Robinson said. “I couldn’t be prouder. Ryan (Ross) just put them over the top.”
Mustang goalkeeper Joey Coryell had several notable saves, including stops on Ross and Austin Flatt, but was unable to stop Ross with 6:52 remaining. Jack Schoonenberg’s through-ball feed led to Ross getting by a defender and coming in from the left wing for his 20th goal.
“Losing is not an option for me or my teammates,” Ross said. “Jack picked up his head, made eye contact with me and gave me the perfect ball to work with.”