The only things on the line in Thursday night’s boys’ soccer game between River Falls and Hudson were bragging rights and playoff preparation.
Hudson took home the bragging rights by virtue of a 1-0 victory, but River Falls’ coach Marcos Rodriguez said his team showed it’s ready for the postseason by hanging with the 10th-ranked Division 1 team in the state.
“We won’t see another team like Hudson in sections, so that’s the beneficial part,” he said. “It made us look to play faster and play quicker and be more aggressive, and some guys had to step up. So going into Tuesday, hopefully we’re on our toes.”
Hudson entered the game ranked No. 10 in Division 1 in the the latest Wisconsin Soccer Coaches Association poll and had already sewn up second place in the Big Rivers Conference and a No. 2 seed in its Division 1 regional. They’ll take a 15-3-2 overall record into their playoff opener against seventh-seeded Chippewa Falls (2-12-2) Tuesday, Oct. 22 in Hudson. The Raiders swept the Cardinals 10-0 and 6-0 during the regular season.
River Falls, meanwhile, will drop down to Division 2 for the playoffs and take a 9-8-2 record and No. 4 seed into its postseason opener at home against No. 5 La Crosse Central (11-4-2) Tuesday night. The Wildcats beat the Red Raiders 8-0 in their only meeting.
After losing to Hudson 3-1 in their previous meeting Sept. 24 in Hudson, Rodriguez said he was pleased to see the improvement the Wildcats showed against the Raiders in their final regular season game Thursday night.
“A 1-0 loss looks a lot better as far as momentum going into Tuesday,” he said.
The game was scoreless through the first half and the Wildcats had a chance early after intermission, but Hudson goalkeeper Lucas Biederman came up big on a rocket from the top of the box by Gage Espanet.
Hudson finally got on the board off a corner kick 9 minutes, 17 seconds into the second half when Wildcat keeper Ben Matheson stopped a header by Corey Denning but Trevor Nava-Barber was there to clean up the rebound.
“That one opportunity; that changed the game,” Rodriguez said. “We had a couple early where hey, if we finish those maybe it’s 1-1. But I’m satisfied.”
Hudson coach Steve Sollom, however, wasn’t feeling the same way.
“Not as good as I did before this game,” he said. “We need to be smarter. The last five-ten minutes of the game we were not smart. Physically and talent-wise we have a lot of skill, but we have to be smarter as a whole because smart teams, in close games, don’t give the game away.”
Sollom said he’ll take the win though.
“It is what it is,” he said. “It’s a conference rivalry game so you know it’s going to be close. They (River Falls) have obviously gotten better throughout the year. And it’s hard to keep the kids motivated every single game. Sometimes we show up thinking we’re just going to show up and win. But it doesn’t just happen.”
A win over Chippewa Falls Tuesday night would keep the Raiders at home for a second round game against either second-seeded Wausau West (12-1-2) or No. 6 Superior (13-4-0) Saturday, Oct. 26. Sollom said the Raiders have to play better if they want to challenge top-seeded Eau Claire Memorial, who they tied and lost to this season, in a potential sectional semifinal matchup.
“I look back at the game we lost at Memorial, we made mistakes that cost us the game in the last part and we have to be smarter,” he said. “So our IQ needs to be a little higher.”
A River Falls win Tuesday would most likely send them to top-seeded Onalaska (16-4-2) Saturday. The Hilltoppers host No. 8 seed Sparta (6-13-0) in their first round match. The Wildcats dropped a 2-0 decision at Onalaska earlier this season, but Rodriguez said Thursday night’s 1-0 loss to Hudson showed they’ve come a long way since then.
“We battled well and had some chances,” he said. “But that’s the thing that separates the top dogs from, hey, we’re still working our way there.”