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H-BR soccer one victory away from state semifinals

If the trajectory of Zach Michels’ shot late in the Royals’ 1-0 overtime loss to Lisle last year had been just a few inches different, the Hinckley-Big Rock boys soccer team would have been celebrating a berth in the state semifinals.

Instead, Michels’ shot clanged off the post, and the Royals lost on a sudden-death goal in the waning seconds of overtime in the Class 1A Naperville Central Super-Sectional.

H-BR was left to wait a year for the possibility of another chance at getting to state.

“It was frustrating,” coach Paul Taeuber said. “I’ve heard [the players] say, ‘We were just a couple of posts away.’ ”

Today the Royals will get that chance when they play Cristo Rey Jesuit at 6:30 p.m. in the Class 1A Naperville North Super-Sectional.

Just like last season, the Royals’ opponent in the Super-Sectional is a bit of an unknown after H-BR has defeated several familiar teams in the playoffs, including conference rivals Earlville and Somonauk.

Cristo Rey is a possession-oriented team, similar to Lisle, the team the Cristeros knocked off in the Class 1A Lisle Sectional final.

“It’s a little bit different, there’s no getting around that,” Taeuber said. “We’re used to a certain style, whether it’s Princeton, trying to play a flat back and allowing open space, whether it’s Earlville playing physical or it’s Somonauk, another rival opponent.”

There are plenty of differences from this year’s Royals squad compared to last season’s surprising team. This year, a deep run in the playoffs was expected.

The Royals lost just four matches all year, and those games all featured problems that Taeuber thinks they’ve fixed during this postseason run.

“The four games we lost, we lost on certain ways on certain set pieces or because teams out hustled us for goals,” Taeuber said. “It was really a challenge in making sure we don’t let that happen and we finish off the goals that we know we need to.”

But most importantly, this team is more experienced.

After losing only a few seniors from last year’s team, the Royals are ready to break through that barrier and make it to the state semifinals for the first time since 2003.

“They’ve been through it once,” Taeuber said. “They know what it’s going to have to take. It comes down to, are they going to leave everything on the field like they have been lately. If you do that, you can’t look behind you with any regret. They know it’s win or go home. So I hope they remember that experience from last year, that environment and just play their game.”

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