AJ Johnson is unquestionably the best soccer player ever to lace up cleats for New Richmond High School. On Tuesday, he played one of his best games.
Johnson accounted for five goals and three assists in leading New Richmond to a 9-0 win over Tomah in the opening round of the WIAA Division 2 soccer regionals. With the win, the Tigers advance to Saturday’s regional final game. The Tigers, seeded second in the section, will host third-seeded Holmen. The game will be played at 1 p.m. on Saturday at the New Richmond High School field.
Tiger coach Darian Blattner said there aren’t complete totals on some team records, but he said the 13 points earned by Johnson Tuesday has to rank among the highest point totals ever amassed by a Tiger. Johnson holds nearly all of the Tiger career scoring records that has been compiled.
There was an incredible wind blowing across the New Richmond High School field and it was a definite factor in the early action. It took the Tigers about 10 minutes to see how the wind was affecting play. The Tigers then took charge by scoring four goals in less than six minutes.
The Tigers learned they had to keep the ball low and that led directly to the first goal. Michael Benedict rolled a long lead pass down the center of the field and Johnson chased down the ball, slotting his shot into the far corner of the net. Less than a minute later, Jack Stuedemann scored from close range off a pass from Johnson.
Martin Stenske scored the third goal, knocking home a rebound off a Johnson shot. As the game hit the 20-minute mark, Johnson scored the fourth goal, chipping a shot over the reach of the charging Tomah keeper.
Johnson scored again 20 minutes later, 50 seconds before Benedict scored as Johnson slid a pass across the goal crease to him. Blattner said Benedict is one of the Tigers who has noticeably stepped up his play in recent games.
Johnson scored two more goals in the second half and Jovani Perez-Sanchez also scored.
The Tigers were able to play their reserves for most of the final 25 minutes of the game.
Blattner said this was one of the Tigers’ most complete games of the season. He said Johnson got the points, but Blattner had the opinion that all the Tigers raised their level of play to begin the playoffs.
“Everything seemed to be clicking. Even our reserves maintained a high level of play,” Blattner said.
Saturday’s playoff game against Holmen is an intriguing pairing. The two teams tied 1-1 in a rain-shortened game a few weeks ago.
“It’s a chance to play in conditions that won’t include rain or mud,” Blattner said. “The kids are ready. It’ll be a highly contested game. It’s a chance for both teams to show who can take the next step.”