BATAVIA – Grace Salyers didn’t expect to play on Tuesday.
Fortunately for Batavia, the junior forward proved to be tough enough to play through a handful of injuries and score the lone goal in a 1-0 victory over Elk Grove Village in a Class 3A Batavia Regional semifinal.
With the victory, the Bulldogs advance to Friday’s championship game against Geneva.
“I didn’t want to play her today, but I had to play her because we didn’t step up as a team to make sure she didn’t play,” Batavia coach Mark Gianfrancesco said. “It’s win-or-go-home stuff and I can’t leave her sitting on the bench for that, and obviously she’s the one that stepped in and scored a goal.”
Salyers got banged up during a collision with the Wheaton North goalkeeper last Thursday and is now battling a hamstring injury, an LCL strain and bone contusion.
“This was definitely one of our roughest games,” Salyers said. “We struggled a little bit in calming down and moving the ball. We were having some issues and stuff, but we know what our issues are and are going to move forward.”
Batavia (16-4-2) really started to sniff the net in the final 15 minutes of the first half, but attempts from Salyers, Kate Schoenfelder and Kyla MacKenzie were all off the mark. Ashley Whelpey’s attempt to connect with Zaira Solis minutes before the half was also denied.
The injury bug has bitten the Bulldogs, with the latest loss being the absence of Jenna Nichols on the back line. Nichols was lost for the season after suffering a knee injury in the win against St. Charles North.
Still, the Bulldogs found a way to step up and earn their 13th shutout with Hailey Flannagan and Aubrey Hahn splitting duties in goals like they have all season. Defenders Taylor Fleury, Zaira Solis, Kyla Mackenzie and Whelpey did their part in back to pick up the slack with Nichols and Rachel Polignone sidelined.
“We’ve kind of been switching around our formation, but no matter who is back there, we’re always going hard,” Shoenfelder said. “Even today we weren’t the cleanest, but we always put forth a lot of effort, which is really important to make sure we cover for each other. Losing Jenna doesn’t help but we’ve done a good job of picking up her slot.”
Salyers netted the game-winner in the 45th minute, taking a pass and dribbling down the sideline before picking the right time to take her shot.
“They just read the defense really well with the splits and gaps and got me the ball,” Salyers said. “I just lucked into it and found that gap. I caught the ball and just looked for that split where the goalie was moving to the left.”
Elk Grove Village (7-12-2) didn’t create many chances, but produced a pair of shots after Salyers scored so the Grenadiers at least threatened to tie the game.
Gabriella Mauro’s attempt from 20 yards away in the 53rd minute was met by a swarm of defenders so Hahn didn’t have to make a save. Then, in the 70th minute, Katie Talens had an attempt but rolled it right to Hahn for an easy save.
“We had the better run of the play today and we had chances but we just needed to finish more of them,” Gianfrancesco said. “Did we deserve to win? Yeah, just by the way we played, but to let a team hang around like that is scary and it doesn’t have to be. I think we can play better than we did today and I’ve seen us play better than we did today. We have to be ready to go on Friday.”