HINCKLEY - The Earlville/Leland boys soccer team dominated Saturday's regional semifinal game against Hinckley-Big Rock, which was enough to send Earlville/Leland to Tuesday's 6 p.m. Class 1A Hinckley-Big Rock Regional championship game.

Just barely.

Earlville/Leland won 1-0 over Hinckley-Big Rock.

E/L dominated possession of Saturday's game even though the score was not one-sided. E/L took 28 shots compared to five shots by H-BR. E/L had 17 shots on goal compared to four shots on goal by H-BR.

"I'm not real happy with our finishing, especially the second half when we had the wind. We had opportunities. I thought we controlled it," said Earlville/Leland head boys soccer coach Roger Essmann. "We are going to have to figure out our finishing, which we've been able to do lately. I don't know how many opportunities, but I thought we had some golden opportunities the first half, especially in front of the net there. Hopefully, we will be ready to put it to work on Tuesday."

Earlville/Leland got its only goal early in the game.

E/L junior forward Chris Collins scored with 26 minutes, 36 seconds remaining in the first half. Sophomore midfielder Tyler Becker delivered the assist on the goal.

Becker stole a Hinckley-Big Rock pass near midfield, dribbled to the endline and crossed to Collins. H-BR goalie Justin Salazar dove at Becker's pass. The pass got past Salazar and left Collins a wide-open goal.

"I saw it slip through, and I knew I had time to settle it and put it in," Collins said. "I didn't want to one-time it and miss it. I settled the ball and put it in."

The goal was Collins' sixth goal in the last three games.

H-BR put defensive emphasis on containing E/L senior forward Danny Heath and senior midfielder Ryan Hardin, which gave Collins and the other E/L midfielders and forwards plenty of shots.

"We tell them to focus on Heath on the right and Ryan in the middle and try to make sure they get sandwiched together," said Hinckley-Big Rock head coach Paul Taeuber. "They get free once in a while, but watch them two because they're stronger on the right and it shows when they play. We just didn't have an answer for the midfield."

Becker particularly controlled the midfield Saturday, and he repeatedly setup Collins, forward Tyler Freiders, and midfielder Jarid Reiter for opportunities Saturday - along with Heath and Hardin when possible.

"I thought Tyler Becker played a real good game," Essmann said. "For a sophomore, he's really stepped it up at the end here. He made a beautiful, beautiful assist on that goal. He's capable of doing that. His control is very good out there on the field. I think our kids kind of stepped it up a little (Saturday)."

Becker said he found it hard at times to get passes to his teammates because of the strong play of H-BR sweeper Brian Michaels, which Becker said made it tough for them to score Saturday.

"They got Michaels back there, and he's pretty quick and takes away our passes," Becker said.

Earlville/Leland's defense played well itself Saturday, which included E/L junior goalie Cory Buhler making four saves.

Earlville/Leland returns to Hinckley on Tuesday. E/L faces Somonauk in the regional championship game, which is scheduled to start at 6 p.m.

E/L is 1-1 against Somonauk this season. Somonauk won 2-1 in overtime during the regular season, and E/L beat Somonauk 4-1 in the Little 10 Conference Tournament championship game.

"I just hope we can get by Somonauk one more time," Collins said. "All of us did really good (Saturday). We just couldn't put anything in the net."

Erik Hall can be reached at 223-3200, ext. 195, or at sports@newstrib.com.


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