BRUNSWICK - Nineteen seconds. That's what separated Badger from forcing extra time against perennial state powerhouse Hawken.
At that point, though, Hawken's Aidan Bobrow broke the hearts of the Braves and their fans who travelled to Brunswick High School on Wednesday evening, as the freshman picked up the ball inside the 18-yard box and fired a shot into the back of the net to give the Hawks a 2-1 win over Badger in a Division III regional semifinal matchup.
"It's tough to lose it in the closing seconds of the game," Badger coach Justin Deraway said. "My team gave it everything they had - we fell just short."
Tribune Chronicle / Dave Dermer
Hawken’s Patrick Connors, right, winds up for a kick while Badger’s Bryson Stemock (17) defends during Wednesday’s Division III regional semifinal at Brunswick High School. Also pictured is Badger’s Hunter Hall (15). Hawken held off Badger, 2-1, and advanced to Saturday’s Division III regional final.
While Bobrow's goal ended Badger's season, the Braves (16-2-1) proved they could hang with Hawken (12-7-1), a program that beat the Braves a combined 11-0 the last two times they met in the regional semifinal round and came in as the favorite.
"This is the third time that we made it this far in the tournament, and this is the best run we've ever gave Hawken," senior captain Richie Roscoe said. "I read earlier that they lost, 5-0 and 6-0. That's a big turnaround. I thought we gave it a real good shot, gave them a run for their money."
Badger's success came in the form of a gameplan that frustrated the Hawks.
The Braves utilized a strategy in which they bunkered into a defensive shell, putting as many as nine to 10 players behind the ball at all times. This allowed Hawken to see a lot of the ball and control the tempo, but it also left the Hawks susceptible to the counterattack, of which Badger took advantage. The Braves probed Hawken's defense, and although Badger only created three shots on goal, Hawken experienced a few shaky moments in the back.
"We knew if we were going to stick in it, we had to play a defensive game," Deraway said. "We focused on defense all week, focused on trying to transition and have quick counterattacks, which I thought we did a great job of. Unfortunately, we just didn't finished on a couple of chances we had."
Even when Patrick Connors put Hawken ahead in the 63rd minute after dribbling from the left side of the midfield to the right and firing a shot from 25 yards out, the Braves didn't leave that style of play in order to press for an equalizer, and in the 70th minute, Badger's gameplan worked.
Junior forward Joe Gorospe had the ball on the right wing and centered a pass to Roscoe, who stood toward the penalty spot. Roscoe then pushed on the ball to an unmarked Daniel Bevilaqua, who had plenty of the space in which to score the tying goal.
"I heard Danny coming down behind me and said he was there," said Roscoe of the play leading up to the goal. "So, I left it (for him)."
The Braves had a few chances to score the match winner in the final minutes of regulation, including a Gorospe shot from 23 yards away that just went over the crossbar in the 78th minute, but in the end, the Braves' upset bid fell short.
Although the Braves were hurting after the match, Deraway said once the sting of the loss wears off, his players will realize they put in the program's best performance in a regional semifinal ever, and he was happy with their performance on the field.
"It's the best group I've ever seen come through here," Deraway said. "Giving Hawken a game like that - right now, it hurts, but looking back on it, I'm sure the kids are going to be proud of it. I'm proud of it."