For the third time in four seasons, the New Richmond boys soccer team will play in the WIAA State Championships.

The Tigers qualified for the 2019 state Division 2 tournament with a dominating performance in the sectional championship game on Saturday. The Tigers took the lead 6:58 into the game and never relented in defeating Hortonville, 4-0.

The Tigers received the fourth seed in the state tournament bracket. The Tigers will play on Friday, at 11 a.m. at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee. They will face Brookfield East, the top seed in the bracket.

Saturday’s victory makes the Tigers 21-2-1 for the season. The Tigers have been outstanding in the tournament run. In the four playoff games, the Tigers have outscored their opponents 16-0. The four tournament shutouts give the Tigers 15 shutouts for the season.

New Richmond coach Darian Blattner said the scouting report on Hortonville was the Polar Bears like to start games intensely and get an early advantage. The Tigers made it their goal to match that intensity and they did. The Tigers nearly had a goal at the 3:31 mark when AJ Johnson put a penalty shot off the crossbar. The Tigers stayed on the attack and the first goal came a few minutes later.

Joe Casey carried the ball to the baseline along the right edge of the Hortonville goal. He slotted a pass across the goal and Cohan Hare was making a charge, redirecting the ball into the goal at the 6:58 mark.

The Tigers held a huge advantage in controlling the ball and it paid dividends. Johnson and Hare worked a two-man game with the ball that created an opening for Johnson to make a run at the goal. His goal made the score 2-0 at 30:31 and it stayed that way through halftime.

If there were any worries about the final outcome, the Tigers resolved them in the opening seven minutes of the second half. Johnson scored his second goal off a long pass ahead from Hare. The ball struck a Hortonville defender who was shadowing Johnson, but Johnson quickly gained control and got his shot away. That came 3:36 into the second half. Johnson now has 41 goals this season, one of the top totals in the state.

The Tigers scored their final goal three minutes later. Johnson carried the ball deep into Hortonville territory. Casey made a charge toward the front of the goal, where Johnson found him in stride. Casey’s rifled shot was in the net before the Hortonville keeper could react.

This lead allowed the Tiger coaches to get their reserves extensive game time over the final 30 minutes. Every player on the bench saw game action,except the reserve goalkeepers.

For the Tiger juniors and seniors, they’ve been through the playoff grind before. Blattner said that experience is a benefit and he hopes it continues to help the team at state.

One area where the Tigers were exceptional strong on Saturday was controlling the ball through the midfield. Hortonville had an incredibly difficult time making the transition to offense, because the Tigers frequently took the ball back in the midfield.

“AJ, Jack (Stuedemann) and Dave (Miller), they play that triangle so well,” Blattner said. Having Miller back to full health has further strengthened the midfield play. Miller missed last season’s tournament run due to injury and Blattner said that was a void the team couldn’t overcome.

Blattner said the Tigers also achieved their main defensive objective in Saturday’s game, which was to keep the ball away from Hortonville’s leading scorers as much as possible.

“Our magic number was three,” Blattner said, saying he thought if the Tigers could score three goals, there was no way the Tiger defense would allow three goals to be scored against it.

The Tigers advance to the WIAA sectional championship by winning Thursday at Onalaska, 1-0, in the sectional semifinal.

The only goal of Thursday’s sectional semifinal was scored by Hare. The goal came off a set play off a free kick. Miller took the kick, about 45 yards from the Onalaska goal. Martin Stenske was the first player to make contact with the ball, using a header to flick the ball in the direction of Johnson. Johnson put a hard shot on goal and the Onalaska keeper was able to stop the shot. The ball deflected to Hare and he buried his shot into the back of the Onalaska goal.

Hare’s goal came 16 minutes into the game. In a game where both teams were playing with defensive intentions, the early score was a distinct advantage for the Tigers.

This was the first game the Tigers played on grass in several weeks. Blattner said it took the Tigers some time to adjust to the difference in surfaces. Onalaska had several recent games and the wear on the field showed.

“It wasn’t the smoothest of surfaces,” Blattner said. He said the Tigers did a good job of making sure that there weren’t any balls that got past the defense because of bad hops.

Because of the defensive approach both teams were using, neither team had many quality scoring chances.

The Tigers were using a changed-up lineup after losing Michael Benedict and Caleb Armstrong to leg injuries in the previous playoff game against Holmen. Jovani Perez-Sanchez moved to outside mid. Reserves like Hare, Charlie Gess, Brandon Dennis and Robert Schleicher all saw their roles change and their playing time increase. Hare played most of the game at forward. Blattner said Gess gave the team good energy in his minutes at forward. Dennis and Schleicher were the reserves at the outside mid positions. Blattner said the coaches expect the outside mids to play end-to-end with high energy, so having strong contributions from Dennis and Schleicher in backing up Perez-Sanchez and Casey kept the attack flowing without a hitch.