By Garth Shanklin
The Batavia Bulldogs boys’ soccer team entered the 2016 campaign looking to restart their conference championship winning streak that ended last year. They faced a tough test right from the start, as their first match of the season saw them battle the New Richmond Lions, the team that won the Southern Buckeye Athletic and Academic Conference American Division championship in 2015.
That match ended in a 3-3 tie. After an 8-1 victory over Goshen in their second game of the season, the Bulldogs suddenly hit a bit of a rut, albeit against difficult opponents, according to head coach Kevin Scheel.
“We’ve played some real tough competition,” Scheel said. “To be honest, right now we’re struggling a bit, trying to figure out our identity. Our three losses were all by one goal. Norwood turned into a shootout, we played a very good Western Brown, and then Amelia came out and just strategically beat us. We had a lot more losses early on than we wished for, however that’s the nice thing about our league. We face everybody once, and then we come right back around and see all of our teams again.”
The Bulldogs lost 2-1 to Western Brown on Aug. 30. The Broncos currently sport an undefeated 8-0-1 record, and Batavia is one of just two teams to even crack the scoring column against the Broncos.
Western Brown has allowed just two goals all season, one to the Bulldogs and the other to Little Miami in what became a 1-1 tie. Scheel said the Bulldogs have faced a lot of stellar keepers so far this season.
“A big part of it, we’ve actually faced up against a number of very solid goalkeepers,” Scheel said. “Western Brown’s is very good, Blanchester is going to be a great challenge because Dakota Penquite is one of the best keepers in the city right now, not just Division II. The fact of the matter is we have to create our own opportunities and place them away from the keeper and take advantage of the opportunities we get.”
The team didn’t take advantage of their opportunities against Amelia on Sept. 1, which resulted in a 1-0 loss. While they did find the back of the net more in the next game, a 5-4 defeat against Norwood, Scheel said both games hinged on one specific type of offensive play.
“The big part in both of them was the counter,” Scheel said. “Amelia played a very defensive strategy and they got a counter on us, and their lone goal they had five or six opportunities and finished one of them. We came at them and were on their side of the field probably 75 percent of the time, we just weren’t able to get the ball in the net. The defense stepped up tremendously, the goalkeeper made some good saves.”
The Norwood match consisted of several different lead changes, and that kind of up-and-down action saw the winner be determined by who was able to convert on the opportunities they were given, according to Scheel.
“We had lead changes, it went back and forth,” Scheel said. “At that point, it’s just pure chaos. It turned into ping-pong soccer and counters and who’s taking advantage and they came out on the top side of that.”
In their next game, the Bulldogs entered the non-league portion of their schedule with contests against the SBAAC National Division. They have faired much better in those games.
The team used goals from Alex Hornschemeier, his first of the season, and Anthony Oliverio to pick up a 2-1 home victory over Georgetown. The Bulldogs dominated time of possession in that matchup as well, which allowed them to control the ball and tire out the Georgetown defenders.
“It was a hot game,” Scheel said. “The more we worked the ball around, the more they chased and it made them more tired. If you can do that, it makes the game go that much easier.”
The team was able to control the ball because of their simplistic approach to making plays, Scheel said. They don’t try to do too much, instead focusing on what the defense is giving them.
“That’s the great thing about soccer,” he said. “If you don’t overthink it, it’s actually quite easy. If you train your body to just subconsciously have that touch and know where to go, you just have to move the ball around. When you hang on to the ball, try to do too much or do something fancy that causes a turnover, it causes everything to break down. If you take what’s given to you, it becomes a much simpler process.”
On Sept. 13, the Bulldogs defeated Clermont Northeastern 4-0 in their first match decided by more than one goal since their win over Goshen. Jake Knechtly, Dontae Tallargio, Hornschemeier and Braxton Burke all scored goals for the team. Austin King, Garret Kraus and Oliverio picked up assists, and Jax Gibson made one save en route to his first shutout of the season.
Gibson was tested in the team’s next match, a 2-1 win over Blanchester on Sept. 15. He recorded seven saves, while the team received goals from Knechtly and Corbin Richardson. Hornschemmeier tallied an assist.
The victory was the team’s second win in a one-goal match in the month of September. They had been winless on three previous occasions, and Scheel said the team had to play a full match without losing focus near the end to win close games.
“The fact of the matter is we haven’t pulled out the wins in most of those games, and that’s what we’re looking to figure out,” Scheel said. “The biggest thing is to have that defensive strike and to play a full 80 minutes. It’s such a mental game to be focused and consistent for an entire 80 minutes instead of just 76. That’s what we’re striving to do.”
He added that he liked the team’s chances in their final eight contests, but ultimately the players themselves will decide how those games go.
“I’m excited to see what the second half of the season ends up becoming,” Scheel said. “We certainly have the potential, but it’s on the team to carry it out.”
Batavia hosted the Bethel-Tate Tigers on Tuesday, Sept. 20 in a contest that was not completed before press time. For more on that match, as well as the team’s road match in New Richmond on Thursday, Sept. 22, pick up a copy of the Sept. 29 edition of The Clermont Sun.