BATAVIA -- Weather and play made unpredictable swings Thursday at Batavia.
A deluge of rain at 6 p.m. forced the delay of the planned 7 p.m. start between the Lady Bulldogs and Wheaton Warrenville South until a half-hour later.
When matters did commence, a roaring crosswind from the west and the equally speedy talents of Wheaton Warrenville South sophomore Ashlyn Adams and Batavia seniors Laila Figueras and Avery Solomon were center stage.
Figueras’ goal midway through the first half was part of Batavia’s early control of play and gave the Lady Bulldogs a 1-0 lead. But that advantage vanished just 49 seconds before halftime when Adams’ hustle set up Ella McClatchy’s first goal of 2023.
That 1-1 tie held up through a wild and windy last 40 minutes of play, and the DuKane Conference rules of no overtimes nor penalty kicks put a tame finish to a freewheeling night of soccer between the host Lady Bulldogs (6-2-2, 2-1-1 in conference) and Tigers (2-5-2, 0-2-1).
But for the visitors, the result was at least some reward after a brutal early schedule created a deceiving record.
“Even though we did tie today, I feel like overall we're improving,” McClatchy said. “We had a five-game losing streak so we're very happy to break that streak. We’ll take the tie.”
Adams was also philosophical over the draw.
“I thought we played well, but Batavia’s a great team,” Adams said. “I'll take it over a loss, but I was definitely hoping for a win today.”
Batavia’s better early play incuded a Reese Recker throw-in 13 minutes in that produced a Kailey Hansen right-side attack cleared eventually by Carolyn Harvey.
Wheaton Warrenville South answered with a Lauren Barnett shot punched out by Batavia goalkeeper Addi Cooper. Then an Adams 1-v-1 rush right and cross to the front in the 17th minute produced a Barnett lofting header off the crossbar.
But that Tigers flurry was exceeded by Batavia in the 20th minute. It produced the game’s first goal.
After a Batavia shot went wide off a throw-in, the ensuing 50/50 ball off the goal kick was won by the Lady Bulldogs 35-yards upfield. Natalie Warner’s ensuing send to the right edge of the box found Figueras with space.
With the goalkeeper out to challenge, Figueras sent a 12-yard liner just under the crossbar for a 1-0 lead 20:01 before halftime.
“Natalie Warner saw me open,” Figueras said. “They (Wheaton Warrenville South) shifted kind of far (left), and I was wide open in the box.
“I just kind of took my time, had a touch and then finished in front of the net.”
Said Batavia coach Mark Gianfrancesco: “Lily (Figueras') goal was wonderful. She was in the spot we wanted her to be, it was a nice pass from Natalie Warner to find her, and she stayed composed and played it in the back of the net.”
Batavia kept up the heat, producing a corner kick in the 23rd minute. Hansen’s initial send produced a Hannah Hickman shot blocked in the box, then a Sophia Vozza 28-yard one-timer just over the net.
In the 37th minute, Batavia again threatened when Alexa Schorr triggered a counterattack with a send from midfield. Solomon fielded the ball and dribbled in but had her 10-yard shot smothered by Tigers goalkeeper Marilyn Dixon.
“Defensively we know that long balls are part of Batavia’s game,” McClatchy said. “They have a lot of speed and can get behind players. So, in our minds we were thinking 'Stay composed, don't dive, just win that 1-v-1. If not you have to get a foot in and get the interception.' That's our mindset.”
Just when it appeared the half would end 1-0 Batavia, the Tigers had other plans.
In minute 40, Adams broke into full sprint after a midfield send towards the net. While Cooper just beat Adams to the ball right of the net, her clearing attempt was intercepted by McClatchy, who calmly powered a 15-yard shot inside the lower left post and past a diving Cooper to tie the score 1-1.
“It was a great through from the midfield,” Adams said, “and I was able to hustle there, the goalie came out and mishit it.
“Ella was right there in the box behind me and a had a great touch and just finished it. It was all the midfield and Ella.
“You never know,” Adams added. “Anything can happen even to the last second. You've got to leave everything out there.”
McClatchy was an unlikely scorer, but her aim and poise were that of a top striker.
“I'm normally a defender,” she said, “so in my head I'm thinking 'What would the defense not want me to do?' I was thinking 'Just press up,' I know they play three in the back so if we have a 2-on-3 it's better than a 1-v-3.
“I kind of waited, I saw Ashlyn had that great run and great touch that ricocheted off, and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I was thinking corners, and luckily I finished on that one.”
It all started with a familiar element of the entire night: Adams rushing in toward the net.
“Pressure at this level does crazy things to you,” Wheaton Warrenville South coach Guy Callipari said. “You give up certain things and gain certain things by it.
“That's pressure, putting pressure on the keeper and the back. She's rushed a little bit by Ash (Adams), and Ella did a really good job receiving it.
“She didn't hit the first time, she got it under control. And she's typically a right back. But she's technical enough that she can play through the middle. When we're thin and struggling a little with our fitness she can serve there as well. She did a really nice job.”
While it wasn’t the ideal close to the half for Batavia, Gianfrancesco liked his team’s response.
“It was tough giving up a goal with under a minute left in the half,” he said, “but the girls rallied and responded positively. Soccer is a game about a bunch of mistakes: it’s how you respond.”
Batavia opened the second half with the first good chance 50 seconds in: Solomon had her first right-side shot blocked before sending the rebound over the net.
Warner followed with a shot wide right two minutes later. Then a Solomon low, 22-yard drive with 30:25 left was denied on a diving one-hop grab by Dixon.
“We were down there quite a bit,” Figueras said. “I feel like even coming back after we got scored on, we still had momentum and still had good runs up-top. Unfortunately, we couldn't finish.”
But the quality chances began to lean in Wheaton Warrenville South’s favor very soon.
“The first half we pretty much dominated,” Gianfrancesco said. “Good combinations, good movement off the ball, and we won 50/50 balls.
“The second half we struggled at times in those areas, and they ramped up their intensity. I thought we met their intensity, but did not have enough of the ball and create enough opportunities.”
Wheaton Warrenville South nearly struck with 29:50 to go when Ella Byrnes’ one-hop shot was deflected aside by a diving Cooper, who regained her feet to block Kate Hartnett’s rebound try at the left post.
Then with 22:40 left, a strong Brooke Ittersagen 52-yard free kick reached the left edge of the box, where Lily Petrie sent an 18-yard shot over the net.
But the main factor in the late going was Adams, starting with her burst off a Byrnes send with 21:20 to go. On a 1-v-1 rush with Schorr defending, Adams’ nice passing touch to Hartnett produced a 22-yard drive barely over the net.
“I just try to play my game and use the girls around me who support me,” Adams said of her approach. “Just play as a team, always play hard and if I get an opportunity, try to finish it.”
Despite Adams’ efforts, the Batavia defense produced a scoreless second half.
“I thought our backline played well today,” Gianfrancesco said. “Addie Lowe, Alexa Schorr, Hannah Hickman, Delia Perfect, Reese Recker, along with our subs Emma Stoodley and Sophia Vozza.
“They did a nice job of snuffing out their attack, and were a catalyst for building out of the back with their decision-making, especially in the first half.”
Adams’ 25-yard shot with 17:15 left was stopped on a head high grab by Cooper. Then it was Adams again at 11:20 to go, taking a Barnett pass for a left-side drive saved by Cooper at the left post.
After Batavia’s Solomon had a right-side attack end with her shot wide left with 8:40 to play, Adams was in the spotlight again in the late going.
She first rocketed a 26-yard one-timer just wide right with 8:10 left, then had a great chance at 6:55 on a right-side rush.
But Schorr was able to force her off the ball at the edge of the box and clear the zone, with no foul called as Adams went to the ground.
Tasked with marking Adams much of the night, Schorr prevented trouble at that key moment.
“I noticed she (Adams) had a really good left foot,” Schorr said of her strategy Thursday, “so I tried to keep her to the right.
“In the box at the end (with 6:55 left) I was a little afraid, but you've got to take risks in order to succeed sometimes.”
Knocked to the ground on that play and one other time late in the second half, Adams was philosophical.
“It's OK,” she said. “You've just got to keep playing. The ref will call it if he feels like it is (a foul).”
Batavia had its own chances in the final minutes, with a Lowe cross to Solomon in the box denied by Tigers defenders Ittersagen and McClatchy with 2:55 left. Lowe sent an ensuing left-side shot wide-left of the net.
Then as in the first half, it all came down to a wild end-to-end final minute.
A Solomon counterattack send found Figueras for a race towards the box with 25 seconds left. But her attack was denied on a deflection 18 yards out to the left side.
The ensuing Wheaton Warrenville South send sprung Adams on a last-second rush toward the ball.
But Batavia defender Hickman won the race to the ball left of the box and cleared it out with 10 seconds left, wrapping up the 1-1 tie.
“Ash is always going to stand out,” Callipari said. “She gets on the ball and makes things happen, and everyone gets to the edge of their seat thinking something dramatic is about to happen. And typically it’s going to.”
The star striker was just one player worthy of special praise by Callipari.
“I thought Lauren (Barnett) did a nice job underneath and is finding her role and place, and both Carrie (Harvey) and Ella Byrnes,” he said. “Ella is starting to figure it out. They're really starting to look for each other and switch the point of attack. It's a more diverse type of look, and that's what we need to be.
“Kate (Gronlund) did a tremendous job in the back,” Callipari added, “and Brooke (Ittersagen) is really solid back there as well.
“Our backline, just having to deal with their pace and possession: you couldn't make a mistake because if they could get into that space they were gone. So, any decision you made you had to be sure was right.”
The Tigers’ schedule has provided no margin for error.
“We've had some good competition, but it's nice to test us and see what we can handle,” McClatchy said, “We're looking at the long run.”
“I don't think we played as well as vs. St Charles East (a 1-0 loss to the unbeaten Saints on Tuesday),” Callipari said, “but the conditions were really hard. They (Batavia) pressured well, and they're good athletes.”
Callipari is no stranger to the Batavia program. His oldest son and daughter both played for Gianfrancesco.
“My daughter Olivia played for Mark, and they had a really good team,” he said. “Then my oldest son (Cam) played here, and they had a really good team where they lost in the sectional final to Naperville Central. My youngest (Brayden) only played club (and later at Wisconsin and DePaul).”
And the two programs’ connections run deeper.
“Mark (Gianfrancesco) is a Tiger: he graduated from Wheaton Central,” Callipari said. “The year before I took the job he was a senior. They won conference, and he was an all conference center back.
“There's a lot of ties. And I live in Batavia. It's always fun, and I know a lot of the girls. Abi (Edwards) is still (playing) here (at Batavia), and her dad Troy coached with me and played at Wheaton College.”
Beyond those ties between the two programs, Thursday’s tie on the field extended Batavia’s unbeaten streak to six.
“I think it's just how we move the ball from defense through the midfield to the top,” Schorr said of the team’s key to success. “It works well, and we connect very well altogether as a team.”
Said Figueras: “Our team bonding has been really good lately. The team chemistry has been building up, and I just really think we play well as a team.
“That was definitely a good matchup tonight,” Figueras added, “and we've played some good teams in the past week. We've been finishing our chances and getting good outcomes.”
Wheaton Warrenville South
GK: Marilyn Dixon
D: Ella Byrnes
D: Ella McClatchy
D: Brooke Ittersagen
D: Kate Gronlund
M: Carolyn Harvey
M: Ava Walsh
M: Lily Petrie
M: Kate Hartnett
F: Ashlyn Adams
F: Lauren Barnett
GK: Addi Cooper
D: Alexa Schorr
D: Hannah Hickman
D: Delia Perfect
M: Sarah Koziol
M: Avery Solomon
M: Addison Lowe
M: Reese Recker
M: Kailey Hansen
F: Laila Figueras
F: Abi Edwards
Chicagoland Soccer MVPs of the Match: Ashlyn Adams, so., F, WWS; Laila Figueras, sr., F, Batavia
B: Laila Figueras (Natalie Warner), 21’
WWS: Ella McClatchy (unassisted), 40’