Four days after scoring a 3-2 come-from-behind victory over La Crosse Central in a WIAA Division 2 regional semifinal, the Wildcat boys’ soccer team’s season ended in heartbreak Saturday with a shootout loss to top-seeded Onalaska in the regional final match.
After playing to a 1-1 tie through 90 minutes of regulation and two ten-minute overtime sessions, the Wildcats matched the Red Raiders through the first three rounds of a sudden death shootout before missing their final shot to give Onalaska the win.
“It’s always a tough way to go out,” River Falls coach Marcos Rodriguez said. “But I am very proud of how well we did this season.”
The fourth-seeded Wildcats advanced to the regional final by rallying from an early 2-0 deficit to beat No. 5 La Crosse Central Tuesday, Oct. 22, at Wildcat Field.
The comeback started when Owen Wise hit a curling shot to the back post just before halftime to cut the Red Raider’s lead in half. Wise went to the far post again early in the second half, where Dylan Rach was there to put it home and tie the score.
“That was huge because Dylan has made that run all season and has not always been successful with it,” Rodriguez said. “But I would just tell him to make sure he gets there because it’s going to be huge for us.”
Louis Olson got the game-winner when he made a long run and tapped it past the Red Raider goalkeeper to send the Wildcats to the regional final at Onalaska.
Rodriguez said goalkeeper Ben Matheson came up huge in the second half against La Crosse Central to keep the Wildcats in the game.
“Whether it was coming off his line to win the ball in the air or making some great saves to keep it tied and ahead. He is really showing his growth over the last few games,” Rodriguez said.
Matheson had another strong game Saturday at Onalaska, coming up with some big saves to keep the score tied through regulation and overtime. Gage Espanet made a nice run to give the Cats a 1-0 lead in the 18th minute and the Cats had a couple of breakaway opportunities in the second half but couldn’t finish.
“It was a hard fought game,” Rodriguez said. “Overall it was a good game. They defended well on our chances and did well to come back.”
The Wildcats finished the season 18-3-1 after losing seven starters from Rodriguez’s first year as coach in 2018, including their entire back line and leading scorer. That’s something Rodriguez said they should be proud of.
“You would think it would be a rebuilding year for most programs, but the boys worked hard all year and did a great job of having another back-to-back double-digit win year,” Rodriguez said. “The seniors played hard all year long and it was a great experience in year two for me here.”
This year’s team will lose seven seniors, including three starters, to graduation, but Rodriguez said they have a solid foundation coming back.
“We bring back a team that has been with me for two years,” Rodriguez said. “They know the system and most will be two and three year varsity players, which should make for an exciting year and hopefully bring us more success.”