Warriors, Bulldogs wind up settling for a draw
By Darryl Mellema
Fireworks were the theme of the night for Wheaton Academy's homecoming game – played Friday night against Batavia.
The soccer field's lights got into the act early when a circuit breaker went five minutes into the match, plunging the field into firework-ready darkness, though the only lights came from the Warriors' overflow student section – who serenaded the rest of a standing room crowd with “Silent Night.”
After the lights were restarted and teams warmed up again, play mostly fizzled and both shots and scoring chances were in very thin supply.
But in the final quarter of the match – and especially as the postgame show got nearer and nearer, the teams put on their on-field show.
Three goals in the final seven minutes and a 2-2 final score allowed the contest to end in a starburst of glory.
The match was just 3:01 old when the lights went out. Delays followed, first to get the lights restarted, then to allow those lights to reach full power, during which time the teams warmed up.
Wheaton Academy (9-2-1) had a few long-range chances, but shots by Sam Hardy, Ty Seager and Michael Carver all failed to find the back of the net.
“I thought they slowed us down in the first half.” Wheaton Academy coach Jeff Brooke said. “They put numbers behind the ball, and I thought that their numbers bothered us more than I thought it would.
“We had a hard time making making penetrating passes and being crisp. I don't think that's just on us. That's a credit to them for making us play different than our normal style.”
Batavia (8-2-2) eventually got some combination play working. Eleven minutes before halftime, Joe Leiferman sent a lead pass to Adam Heinz, who laid off the ball to John Barnes, who shot wide.
Shortly after that, a Kevin Collins corner kick was eventually laid off by Brendan Allen back to Collins, who passed to Nick Konopacki for a shot that was saved.
“I thought we played a much better second half,” Batavia coach Mark Gianfrancesco said. “I thought we were playing some passes and switching the point of attack.
“The first half, we really weren't doing much, just pounding it out. We talked about it at half, trying to be composed and to communicate.”
As the teams began to work end-to-end in the second half, Batavia scored from a left-sided corner kick. Collins sent the ball across and Joe Jorgenson met that cross at the far post and headed into the net.
“That was great,” Gianfrancesco said. “We've been working on corners and set pieces. That was a good ball in by (Collins) and (Jorgenson) hammered it in. It was great.”
Batavia had a near-immediate second goal when Ian Larson whipped in a shot two minutes after Jorgenson's goal – but the shot was saved for a corner kick by Drew Sezonov. From that kick, Jeff Lorden shot wide.
Wheaton Academy began to press for an equalizing goal, but Batavia held out until 7:25 remained. Casey Zimmerman was taken down in the penalty area, a penalty kick was called and Marshall West converted that kick.
“Their goal came at nearly the 20-minute mark and now we're down 1-0 to a good side,” Brooke said. “(Zimmerman) gets end line finally and we were looking for more of that in the second half. And (West) did a great job of putting that away.”
From this point, the match reached a level it had never achieved in the first half with both teams working to score. And the hosts completed their revival with 3:26 left when a Hardy corner kick was flick-headed by West to Seager, whose far-post header went into the net.
“We did another good job on a set piece, which seemed like the only way we could get through on them,” Brooke said.
West's contributions both as a central defender and then moving forward on to score one goal and gain an assist on the second were massive to Wheaton Academy.
“(West) has really developed into such a nice player,” Brooke said. “Technically he's very good and physically he's very strong. He's good in the air. Our guys look to him a lot and I thought tonight he responded well, especially when we fell behind.”
Batavia wasn't willing to accept defeat and carried its unbeaten run to nine matches when Larson rolled a shot into the net 69 seconds after Seager scored to create the final scoreline.
“That's what he's been doing all year,” Gianfrancesco said of Larson. “When we need a goal, he comes out and converts the opportunity. But it's other people, too. It's John (Barnes) throwing it in the box that creates the opportunity for us to have the opportunity to tie this game.”
Both teams showed the sort of response to adversity their coaches could appreciate. For Batavia, there was the double blow of surrendering a pair of goals within four minutes inside the final 10 minutes of the match.
“That was tough,” Gianfrancesco said. “Giving up the PK and then one minutes later, you see that quite frequently in soccer, where you mentally just let down. But I liked the result. We put on a great fight here.”
Defensively, the Bulldogs got some key contributions from center back Konopacki and right back Leiferman had strong performances.
“(Konopacki's) been stepping up, winning some balls,” Gianfrancesco said. “(Leiferman's) been filling in on the right side for Nathan Carey, who's got a concussion and he should hopefully be back next week. But he did a great job today, Joey Lieferman. And Konopacki was stepping in there, winning balls in the air. The defense has really come together in the last couple of weeks and kept us in some games.”
Batavia has another long playing week ahead. First is a Monday home contest against Wheaton Warrenville South, followed by a Tuesday match against St. Charles North at Geneva – part of the Tri-Cities Cup doubleheader. The Bulldogs conclude with a Saturday trip to Oswego East.
“We just want to keep improving,” Gianfrancesco said. “The first half, we didn't think we played well and didn't look very good. But in the second half, we came out and looked more like ourselves. You saw how we can knock the ball around and dictate some of the play and challenge the ball tonight.”
Wheaton Academy still has six scheduled matches plus its competition in the Messiah tournament, meaning the Warriors are at roughly the midpoint of their season. Next up is a Monday contest at Wheaton North.
“We're still trying to see where we are and what changes we want to make as we head toward the final stretch of the season,” Brooke said. “We feel good about our guys and where they're at. It's great that we're 9-2-1.
“We've got to get a little bit healthier and a little bit crisper in terms of how we use our first and second touch. I felt that got away from us a bit tonight.”
The match was played before a massive crowd. All the field's bleachers were full, a large gathering sat behind the north goal and fans even populated the grassy hill above and behind the team benches.
Shortly after the match, the lights went off – as scheduled – and the fireworks show commenced.
“Wheaton Academy's done a great job of supporting our program,” Brooke said. “It's a great time for them and for family and for all those who came out. It's a great night and and hopefully it's a great celebration of what's going on at Wheaton Academy.”