AURORA – Bernie Conley knew the Hinckley-Big Rock boys soccer team had let an opportunity slip away when his team lost to Somonauk in the championship game of the Little Ten Conference tournament last week.
“We thought we had them,” the senior said. “We thought we played better than them.”
That loss was the Royals’ second to Somonauk this season during the Bobcats’ undefeated run through the LTC, and made H-BR the lower seed heading into Saturday’s Aurora Central Catholic Class 1A Regional championship game.
But the playoffs seem to bring out the best in the Royals, who knocked off the LTC champs to win their second consecutive regional championship with a 2-0 win on a rain-soaked, muddy day.
“When we played them the first couple times, we gave up a bunch of goals that we shouldn’t have let in,” Conley said. “[Saturday], we had solid defense, solid offense, and we just took advantage of our opportunities.”
The Royals took the lead in the 27th minute when Jared Madden’s shot found the lower corner of the goal.
H-BR controlled play for most of the game, and Conley was tripped in the penalty area with 28 minutes remaining in the second half, and the senior buried the penalty kick to give the Royals some insurance.
“The difference was that in our other games that we lost to them, they really out-hustled us on some of the goals,” coach Paul Taeuber said. “We talked about making sure that those little extra hustles, every inch, every ball, every play counts.”
The Bobcats had a few chances in the waning minutes, but they weren’t able to capitalize on the mistakes that plagued H-BR in the teams’ first two meetings.
“We just all weren’t clicking at the same time [in the other two matchups],” said Madden, who scored five goals in the two-game regional tournament. “[Saturday], we all came together and played our game.”
A step up in play come playoffs has become a theme with this group of Royals. Last season, with only one senior, the Royals made a run all the way to the Supersectionals after finishing the regular season 9-8-3.
This year, with a regular season record of 16-4, the Royals are expecting more.
Through coaching most of these seniors for four years, in both soccer and as sophomore basketball coach, Taeuber has learned never to count them out.
“When their blood gets up, they can rise to the occasion and take it to a higher level,” he said. “They are so persistent. They fight to the very end.”