HOFFMAN ESTATES -- Avery Solomon's double was enough to shake fifth-seeded Batavia free of rival Wheaton North, avenge an earlier DuKane Conference loss to the Falcons and claim the Hoffman Estates Regional crown Saturday afternoon at Garber Stadium.
Solomon bagged the first two goals of the intense contest. The first came on a brilliant left-footed finish in the 18th minute and started the Lady Bulldogs on their way to a spot opposite top-seed St. Charles East (19-3-0) at 4:30 p.m. May 24 in a West Chicago Sectional semifinal.
"(That) might have been our most complete 80 minutes of soccer we've played all season," said Solomon, who shared Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match honors with teammate Laila Figueras. “And we needed to, because Wheaton North was such a great team. It was important that we came out strong and finished strong as well.”
"It was big getting that first goal so early," said Figueras. “But it was still a little shaky for us going into the half with just a one-goal advantage. Avery's second goal really helped us settle in. The third goal helped us put more pressure on North.”
"Just a terrific effort from the girls today," said manager, Mark Gianfrancesco after his club lifted its second-consecutive regional trophy and third in four seasons. “Especially that first 20 minutes where our pressure, pace and energy were exactly what we needed to come out with."
"Batavia did a great job today," said Wheaton North manager Tim McEvilly. “They pressured the ball really well and made us defend more than we would have liked in what was a real scrappy game. It had a little bit of everything.”
The Falcons entered this final as the no. 4 seed and were in search of the program's first regional crown since 2015. They got off to the quicker start behind the efforts of Macy Hutchinson, Talia Kaempf, Calah Strong and scoring leader Jane Rogers (18 goals).
Strong roared up the right side and then played a lovely ball to Hutchinson whose attempt was saved by Addi Cooper. The Falcons created a pair of corners, initiated by Strong and Kaempf, but both were parried smartly out of the area by the Lady Bulldogs backline.
"I thought we came out really well today," said Sophia Fadel. "I really feel like each one of their goals were preventable, but (their) pressure on the ball and energy was something we did not match as much as we should have."
When the impressive pairing of Riley DiBiase and Solomon found their rhythm and pace, they began to dictate play for the Lady Bulldogs (9-7-4) from the heart of their defense into an absorbent Wheaton North end.
It was clear from the moment the Batavia attack came to life, that it would look to the DiBiase-Solomon dynamic duo and the effervescent Figueras out wide as often as it could. The trio helped pry open a Falcons defense which had helped keeper Zoey Bohmer register 11 clean-sheets on the season.
"I really liked the way that we moved the ball from side-to-side, playing quick and targeting, and finding our players in order to keep the pressure on. That led to Avery's first goal," said Gianfrancesco.
While the Lady Bulldogs attack was running at full speed, it was stopped on a handful of occasions by the Falcons offsides trap, which many times was playing right up to the midline.
"I thought we executed the trap real well," said McEvilly. “In fact, there were a couple more occasions when I thought we should have seen the offsides flag go up for us.”
The opener came from a seemingly impossible angle far away from the near post of Bohmer. Solomon unleashed a left-footed wonder shot that found the far, inside netting and gave the Lady Bulldogs the advantage in the 18th minute.
"I saw their keeper was off her line,and headed toward me,” said Solomon. “So I had an open shot at an open net, but with my left foot even though I am right-footed," said Solomon. Her effort curled nicely into the net, much to the delight of the Lady Bulldogs faithful.
The breakthrough goal from Solomon signaled a short period in which both sides sent something on frame as the game began to slowly open up.
Strong, then Kaempf each had a go for Wheaton North. On the other side of the park, Figueras went wide twice.
Batavia’s backline, particularly during the first hour, never seemed to come unraveled. The unit of Hannah Hickman, Addison Lowe, Delia Perfect and Alexa Schorr stayed organized, alert and aware. Junior Lowe played wide on the left side and almost gave her club the look of playing with another outside midfielder.
"We give Addy (Lowe) a lot of flexibility on the outside," said Gianfrancesco. “She is quick, has a nice touch and really gives our attack another player on that side.”
What the regional champs also did was to squeeze the field shorter from touchline-to-touchline, almost daring Wheaton North to play wide, particularly in the first half when their touch and ability to find feet slowed the Falcons attack to a crawl at times.
"We played into their pressure far too many times in the first half, which played right into their defensive play,” McEvilly said. “We did so much better after the break.”
It could have been 2-0 just before the intermission if not for a reaction save from Bohmer of a point-blank effort from Emma Wecker, who found herself close-in at the near post when a ball from the right side by Figueras surprised everyone.
The second half could not have had a worse start for Wheaton North. The Falcons conceded two quick goals before five minutes had been played.
Solomon doubled the Lady Bulldogs advantage at 43 minutes when a Kailey Hansen corner kick bounced around inside the Falcons box like a wayward ping-pong ball. It bounded to the opportunistic Solomon who shimmied in her six-yard effort.
Two minutes later, it was 3-0 after a valiant kick save by Bohmer on a Solomon blast spilled freely to Reese Recker, who easily side-footed her one-timer into the Falcons empty net.
"We just were not as clean and sharp as we should have been coming out of the break," said the junior Bohmer. “They took advantage of that, and finished their chances. I felt like we came back strong after both of those goals.”
The Falcons were back stronger indeed with dogged urgency and desire as they went in search of pulling the first one back sooner than later.
"I think we all knew if we could put one in it would give us the momentum, and a chance to get back in the game," said Hutchinson, who dispossessed her marker before going wide moments after the Recker strike. “But that first goal came really late in the game.”
The senior forced Cooper to save her low smash from the endline and then watched a nicely played one-two between Strong and Rogers lead to a Falcons corner kick.
Strong thumped her header off an inward swinging corner from Kaempf on frame, but Delia Perfect was in position on the line to clear the attempt out of danger.
Soon afterward, and with the Falcons chasing three goals with 20 minutes before time, McEvilly went with four up-top in hopes of breaking Batavia down with extra numbers.
The strategy allowed the Lady Bulldogs to counter on a handful of occasions with DiBiase, Hansen and Solomon at the heart of these efforts.
Figueras helped earn two corners for her club, both of which were defended well by Wheaton North. Later she was on the end of what Solomon and DiBiase started from deep in the Lady Bulldogs end.
"We knew (North) would be coming after us hard after we went up 3-0, but I really felt like we were strong today, both physically and mentally for whatever they brought at us," said Figueras.
McEvilly and his bench were troubled by a lack of calls which they felt Wheaton North deserved during the latter half of the second period. One in particular appeared to be a foul inside the box against Rogers just after a thunderbolt free kick from Strong made it 3-1 in the 70th minute.
A mesmerizing run from Rogers ended with the Falcons freshman rattling the bar in the 78th minute, and just before time Falco went wide off a deep throw.
"It's always a tough way to end your season,” said Hutchinson. “It's been a great year and a lot of fun, and this team accomplished so much during the year."
"We're going to lose some great players to graduation, but I feel like we've got a terrific core of players coming back, so I am excited about next year," added Bohmer.
"A great group of young ladies, whom I enjoyed being around all season long,” McEvilly said. “We'll graduate six, and there's plenty of young, talented players coming back. They learned so much in a year when I would put our schedule up against anyone around.
"We've beaten top teams like Benet, Evanston, St. Charles East. After a 2-3-1 start to the season, we finish up at 14-6-2, and that says a lot about this terrific group."
Gianfrancesco's club appears ready for St. Charles East next week after this wonderful performance.
"I am very proud, and happy for the girls today,” he said. “They went out and played 80 great minutes of soccer against a very good Wheaton North team in order to get a well-deserved result.
"We defended well as a team, won a lot of balls, especially in the midfield, and did all of the things we asked them to have the chance to advance into sectionals.
Added Solomon: "It was a very good team win for us. We raised our level of play on both sides of the ball. I am really proud of the way my teammates came out and played a great game for 80 minutes."
G- Addi Cooper
D- Addison Lowe
D- Hannah Hickman
D- Alexa Schorr
D- Delia Perfect
M- Sarah Koziol
M- Riley DiBiase
M- Avery Solomon
M- Kailey Hansen
F- Laila Figueras
F- Reese Recker
Wheaton North (4-3-3)
G- Zoey Bohmer
D- Marie Kendall
D- Sophia Fadel
D- Addison Falco
D- Mira Spillane
M- Piper Harborth
M- Ava Hodel
M- Calah Strong
F- Talia Kaempf
F- Jane Rogers
F- Macy Hutchinson
Chicagoland Soccer MVPs of the Match: Laila Figueras, sr., F, Batavia; Avery Solomon, sr., MF, Batavia
Batavia: Solomon (U/A), 18’
Batavia: Solomon, 43'
Batavia: Becker (Solomon), 45'
Wheaton North: Strong (free kick), 70’
Wheaton North: 4
Wheaton North: 10
Wheaton North: 6
Wheaton North: 4
Wheaton North: 7