Batavia's Zach Strittmatter reaches for the end zone Saturday against Prairie Ridge. He'll return as a go-to player next year.
Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer
Rick Westemail@example.com ¬ Batavia's Mike Moffatt beats Larkin's Justin Banks to haul in a long touchdown catch to put the Bulldogs up 21-0 during Friday's action at Memorial Field in Elgin.
Rick West | Staff Photographer
Some losses are easier to get over than others, and Batavia coach Dennis Piron said Saturday's 33-22 defeat to Prairie Ridge in the Class 6A semifinals certainly isn't going to be an easy one to stomach.
The reason why? How much the Bulldogs put into it, leaping from 2-7 in 2009 to 5-5 last year to 12-1 in Piron's first year as head coach.
"If you don't work hard and win it doesn't feel all that good," Piron said. "And if you work hard and lose it hurts like heck and that's what they are experiencing. They deserve the anguish. The anguish is what you get when you lay everything on the line and believe you are going to be a state champion and that's what they felt like coming into today and what they are going to feel like for a long time."
All year long Piron deflected attention from himself and the success the Bulldogs had in his first year as coach, leading the team to its first 9-0 regular season. Instead he always focused on the years and years of experience of his assistants Mike Gaspari, Matt Holm, PJ White, Bill Kettering and Larry Gay, to name just a few.
Piron did the same thing Saturday.
"I'm very proud, very honored to be head coach of this football team," he said.
"I believe we have been a great program at Batavia for a long, long time. At times we should have been really bad Mike (Gaspari) kept us at .500. At times we probably should have been above .500 Mike was able to have teams that were deep run playoff teams. We're in a good place in this community that supports us and supports us in football. Those boys have hopefully put something in place that will be important for years to come. Everything that happened was like a dream season."
It's not too hard to look at the Bulldogs roster and see that dream lasting even longer. Sophomores Anthony Thielk and Mike Moffatt were impact players all year. The junior class includes a playmaker like Zach Strittmatter and talented defensive lineman Marquise Jenkins. Another Coffey is on the way in 6-foot-2 Micah, who quarterbacked the sophomore team this year.
That sophomore team, and Batavia's freshman squad, both had outstanding years as the program looks to be on the rise not only this year but in the future. And the younger players have the benefit of learning from seniors Noel Gaspari, Cole Gardner, Alec Lyons, Nick Pappas, Austin Lewis, Jon Gray, Austin Higgins, Sean Oroni and others.
"(The juniors and sophomores) see what is required," Piron said. "Really coming into this season we didn't get any state ranking or recognition of our team. I think a lot of people feel us and Ridge are two of the best teams in the state right now, any level. That to me is an unbelievable accomplishment for any group of kids. It's their work ethic and the things they have done. You have to hope the freshmen and sophomores what they saw and they were part of, they do the exact same things. Because there is a lot of awful talented young kids in those groups.
"But there is no promise of tomorrow. That is why losing a game like this for Prairie Ridge, you could say they got over the hump (after losing two previous semifinals), but it's not the same kids that were on the team last year. We got a little roughed at the end but the kids kept fighting back. They are going to be very successful people in life. Just a beautiful group of kids."