With the 3-1 win over Barron on Thursday, the New Richmond boys have won the 2019 Middle Border Conference soccer championship.
The Tigers are unbeaten in MBC play with one game remaining, next Thursday at Cumberland. Barron falls to second place in the standings with one loss and one tie.
Barron plays with an extremely defensive-minded style and it took the Tigers some time to solve the Bears’ system. The game was scoreless at halftime. Tiger senior AJ Johnson scored the first goal, 10 minutes into the second half, off a penalty kick. Barron matched that goal 10 minutes later.
That goal seemed to spur on the Tigers, according to Coach Darian Blattner. He said the Tigers picked up their intensity for the rest of the second half. Within three minutes, the Tigers had the lead. The Tigers were putting on pressure and a Barron player accidentally kicked the ball into his own goal, putting the Tigers ahead, 2-1.
The Tigers notched the final goal nearly 10 minutes later. Johnson scored again, off a cross from Jack Stuedemann.
Because Barron was packing the center of its defensive zone, the coaches moved Johnson and other players to the outside in the second half to create more scoring chances for them.
“There were times they had 11 players inside of 30 yards (of their own goal),” Blattner said of Barron’s defensive approach.
The Spartans made sure of a finish in the upper half of the MBC standings with a 5-2 homefield win over Amery on Thursday.
The Spartans only have one more regular season home game left on the schedule, next Tuesday against McDonell-Regis.
Thursday’s win was significant for the Spartans because Amery has been one of the top teams in the MBC for many years and the Warriors have been a particularly tough opponent for Somerset. So a sweep against Amery is a major achievement, with the Spartans already beating the Warriors on Sept. 3, 6-4.
Playing strongly from the start was a priority for the Spartans Thursday. That produced results, with Brody Harris scoring off an assist from Aaron Shartin-Folkert in the game’s seventh minute.
The Spartans had several more chances early in the game by breaking Torsten Strom on breakaways. The first several were stopped, but a pass over the top from Logan Giossi set up Strom for a breakaway in the 23rd minute and this time he capitalized.
Giossi put the Spartans up 3-0 in the 38th minute, with his shot glancing off the hands of the Amery keeper and into the goal.
Somerset kept attacking early in the second half. Strom was tackled on a breakaway and Shartin-Folkert converted the penalty kick less than four minutes into the second half. The Spartans’ play then tailed off for parts of the second half, as they struggled to get the ball out of their defensive end. Amery got its first goal at the 65:19 mark when the Spartans failed to clear the ball.
The Spartans answered that goal on a nice bit of timing between Giossi and Shartin-Folkert. Giossi took the ball deep into the Amery zone. He waited for Shartin-Folkert to make a cut to the net. The pass was perfect and Shartin-Folkert buried the shot in the upper reaches of the goal.
Giossi was in the midst of most of the action for the Spartans Thursday. The senior captain said he and the team are getting close to accomplishing the goals that were set at the start of the season. Giossi was an All-MBC player last year and he said that came with responsibility.
“I’m just trying to be a good role model for the underclassmen,” he said. “Being all-conference makes me want to work harder for the team.”
Somerset coach Bill Roll said the team is starting to build toward the playoffs. He said one thing the team needs to sharpen is giving up goals like the two Amery scored, where the defense wasn’t careful with the ball.
Saturday road trip
It was hoped that all the soccer seeding questions would be answered when the New Richmond boys made a trip south on Saturday to face Holmen and Onalaska.
Turns out, none of those questions got answered. Rain stepped in and made field conditions unplayable while New Richmond was playing Holmen on Saturday morning. The game was called in the 62nd minute, with the score tied 1-1. The game at Onalaska wasn’t played. Onalaska did win its game against River Falls, 2-0.
Saturday’s results, or lack thereof, will make seeding the top of the WIAA Division 2 regional tournament bracket at challenge. New Richmond has a 14-2-1 record. Holmen is 9-0-5. Onalaska is 13-1-2. When Holmen and Onalaska played, the game ended in a 1-1 tie.
New Richmond coach Darian Blattner said there is little space in the schedule to make up the game with Onalaska. The Tigers have games the next two Saturdays, hosting Sparta and La Crosse Central this Saturday.
Blattner said the Tigers played quite well against Holmen, but that the worsening weather conditions made it more and more difficult to get anything accomplished. New Richmond’s Dave Miller scored the only goal of the first half. After a corner kick, the ball was in a scrum in front of the Holmen net. The ball squirted outside the scrum, where Miller moved in quickly to slide a shot into the lower left corner of the net.
Holmen matched that goal 15 minutes into the second half, also scoring off a corner kick.
With the three teams at the top of the region so closely paired, Blattner said it scored against comparable opponents will be a big part of deciding how the teams are seeded. Menomonie and La Crosse Central are common opponents to all three teams. Blattner said he hopes the team can put up impressive scores in the home games against Menomonie Tuesday and Central on Saturday to help state the Tigers’ case in the seeding meeting.
Blattner said he thinks the way the Tigers played Saturday should give the team confidence after Holmen defeated the Tigers twice last season. He said the Tigers had excellent ball movement, knowing that the wet conditions were neutralizing their speed, which is one of the team’s best assets.