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Game story: Batavia, Wheaton Academy splash to spirited draw

By Bill Esbrook, 09/17/23, 11:00AM CDT


Host Bulldogs battle back twice to forge 2-2 draw

BATAVIA – This is Connor Riddle’s first season starting in goal for Wheaton Academy.

The junior’s been playing lights out, as evidenced by the five clean-sheets he’s already garnered on the season.

In Wheaton Academy's seven wins, Riddle has conceded only three goals.

He’s settled in to his role, despite the pressure of having big shoes to fill.

The Warriors keeper the last two years was Declan Finnegan, a two-time Chicagoland Soccer All-Stater, who plays for Division I Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis.

Riddle has taken the reins and said he learned a lot from the former Warrior, who starred on Wheaton Academy’s 2021 state championship team and 2022 fourth place finisher in Class A.

“He’s one of the best goalies I’ve ever seen,” said Riddle.

“It was great to be able to train with him every day, to see what I could be. He’s definitely someone I strive to be like.”

Warriors coach Jeff Brooke, who returned to the position this season, said that Riddle’s confidence is growing as the season moves along. Brooke previously posted a 209-52-16 mark in his 11-year on the bench that started in 2008. It included a state title (2014), a third place finish (2017) and two fourth place runs (2012-13). 

“Connor has done a nice job,” said Brooke. “He’s stepped up to the challenge.”

Riddle didn’t post a shutout at Batavia, but he had a significant impact on the outcome of the game.

He was rock solid down the stretch as the Warriors fought off the Bulldogs to finish tied 2-2.

Batavia pressed hard for a game-winning goal in the last 10 minutes, but Riddle and his teammates stood up to the challenge.

“Connor made some great saves late,” said Brooke. “He, and really our whole team, have worked hard to get better every day.”

The rollercoaster-ride game started at noon and was contested in the rain. What started as a drizzle in the first half became a steady downpour in the final 40 minutes.

“Just be aware and communicate with your team,” said Batavia coach Mark Gianfrancesco of the challenges of playing in the rain.

“It’s not like I’m telling the guys something they don’t already know. You’ve got to make adjustments, because you know when the ball hits the ground it’s going to skip. 

“Also, if you shoot or cross the ball hard on the ground it’s going to skip to your advantage. You have to make adjustments as a player, and I just make them aware of that.”

The game featured great defense early, especially from Asher Barton, of Wheaton Academy, and Owen Stahl, from Batavia.

The visitors almost broke through in the 18th minute, but a shot from freshman midfielder Andrew Lopez was saved by Batavia keeper Teagen Ritko-Siros.

Wheaton Academy (7-3-2) hit paydirt first in the 21st minute.

Junior Sam Brown passed to sophomore Gabe Stein Rodrigues, who settled the ball before firing it home from 13 yards away.

Ritko-Siros got a piece of it but couldn’t keep it from crossing the goal line. The play led Gianfrancesco to joke that his team always has to fall behind to find its mojo.

“I think we want to start a goal down every time,” said Gianfrancesco with a smile, “because we respond really well.

“We’ve done that all season, but you just don’t want to be playing from behind all the time.

“Once they got that one, we amped it up from there, making connections on passes. After they scored, we started playing.”

Batavia senior forward Michael Ruffo couldn’t help but agree with his coach.

“I feel like that’s been our season so far,” said Ruffo. “We start out slow/ Once a goal by the other team goes in, we start to get it going.

“I feel (though) that our morale is really high. We’ve been struggling, but we’ve been working hard to get positive results.”

Batavia picked up the pace and got the equalizer in the 31st minute.

It started with one of many great plays from Bulldogs midfielder Max Simmons. 

The senior was all over the pitch for Batavia on Saturday.  He displayed a ton of energy and led the charge for the full 80 minutes.

His highlight-real worthy 30-yard carry through traffic was  a thing of beauty and assisted the Bulldogs first score. He worked down the left side,  circled, deked his defender, did a 180 and fired a hard shot which hit the near post. It bounded directly to teammate Alexander Marshall who finished easily from 12 yards past a helpless Riddle.

Simmons kept up his stellar play in the second half, providing an inspiration to his teammates.  He led the attack in the final 10 minutes, as the Bulldogs pressured Riddle time after time but couldn’t get one past the Warriors keeper.

For his maximum effort, Simmons earned the Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match honor.

Batavia threatened in the latter stages of the first period to take the lead.

Stahl sent a perfectly placed long ball to teammate Jesse Alvarez in the box.

He got off a shot, but Barton headed it away.

Alvarez had another attempt in the 38th minute but chipped his try over the crossbar. The half ended 1-1.

“We were doing a good job,” said Brooke. “Although, what I thought we needed to do more of was commit to possession."

Both teams came out with a ton of energy after intermission despite the weather. Wheaton Academy struck first.

In the 56th minute, senior forward Scotty Murray tracked down a loose ball in Batavia territory near the flag in the left corner and crossed to Adam Weber in front.

Weber sent a no-look kick from five yards past Ritko-Siros to make it 2-1 in the visitors’ favor.

The Warriors had several corner kicks for chances to take a two-goal lead. Instead, Batavia (2-6-2)tied it up in the 61st minute.

Bulldogs sophomore midfielder Xavier Justice sent a ball almost 50 yards in the air toward the goal. It was settled by Ruffo, who connected from 10 yards to make it 2-2.

“I was just trailing one of my teammates,” said the senior, “number seven (Simmons), who was making a run. I was right behind.”

The game stayed stuck in a stalemate. Play was contested around the midfield area, until Batavia, eager to end a three-game losing streak, picked up the attack in the final 10 minutes.

Riddle made the save of the game in the 76th minute after Justice found space at the 25 yards from goal. His rocket was punched away by the keeper.

In the final minute, Stahl send a cross to Marshall, but Riddle was there again. He dived to corral the ball to prevent a close-in opportunity.

“It was tough today in the rain,” said Riddle. “The ball was skidding, so you had to get on it right away.

“They (Batavia) like to play those long balls, and they have the pace to back it up. They were definitely right on us the entire second half.

“I was just trying to get my team where I wanted them to be, so Batavia didn’t give me any low shots. I thought we held up pretty well. It was just difficult to tell how the ball was going to slide forward.”

Coach Brooke added that it was the Warriors backline play that keyed the effort for his team.

“Honestly,” said Brooke, “Asher Barton and (Jakob) Karlson have been stellar as our center backs and Scotty (Murray) has been right in front of them.

“I’m really proud of them. They’ve been putting a strong run forth this year. Today, they kept us from giving up the third goal.”

Starting lineups

Wheaton Academy
GK: Connor Riddle
D: Asher Barton
D: Jakob Karlson
MF: Gabe Stein-Rodrigues
MF: Andrew Lopez
MF: Mason Brooke
MF: Alex Moncau
MF: Sam Brown
MF: Finn Ruch
MF: Carlton McClure
F: Scotty Murray

GK: Teagen Ritko-Siros
D: Owen Stahl
D: Matt Vrba
D: Luke Petersen
MF: Max Simmons
MF: Jack Smeraglinolo
MF: Xavier Justice
MF: Alexander Marshall
F: Michael Ruffo
F: Brokk Olberg
F: Jesse Alvarez

Chicagoland Soccer man of the Match: Max Simmons, sr., MF, Batavia

Scoring summary

First half
Wheaton Academy: Rodrigues (Brown), 21’
Batavia: Marshall (Simmons), 31’

Second half
Wheaton Academy: Weber (Murray), 56’
Batavia: Ruffo (Justice), 61'