For the third time in four years, the New Richmond boys have been defeated in the semifinals at the WIAA Division 2 State Soccer Championships in Milwaukee.
The Tigers were beaten on Friday in the 2019 state tournament by top-seeded Brookfield East, 4-1. The Tigers finished the season with a 21-3-1 record.
The first half of the state semifinal game was played to a scoreless tie, but it wouldn’t take long for the offense to erupt in the second half.
Brookfield East scored 93 seconds into the second half off a corner kick when the Tigers were unable to clear the ball out of the crease.
New Richmond standout AJ Johnson was blanketed by Brookfield East defenders throughout the game, but he flashed his superlative skills on the Tigers’ only goal of the game. Dave Miller took a free kick on the defensive side of midfield, sending up the center of the field. Johnson made a leaping kick as the ball arrived, striking the ball in one touch and firing it past the Brookfield East keeper to tie the score 4:51 into the half.
Brookfield’s Jack Corbett was the Tigers’ nemesis in the second half. With 12:11 elapsed in the second half, a Corbett shot resulted in the go-ahead goal for Brookfield East. Corbett was breaking down the right side of the offensive zone. He took a shot and it appeared Tiger goalkeeper Carter Melby was in position to make the save. But the ball deflected off a Tiger defender who was pursuing Corbett and the ball found the side of the net that Melby had vacated.
Brookfield East was the top-ranked team in the state tournament for a reason. The Spartans dominated control of the ball, often forcing the Tigers into turnovers in the midfield. This put heavy pressure on the Tiger defense and that workload began to have an effect in the final third of the game.
Corbett scored again with 27:26 left in the game to make the score 3-1. He maneuvered through the Tiger defense, dodging one sliding defender, which left him with a point-blank shot against Melby.
Johnson nearly cut the score to 3-2, with an almost identical shot to the score that netted the goal. This time, with 25:40 of the clock, his shot careened off the crossbar and back into play.
The Tigers’ fatigue showed on the final goal, with Brookfield’s Jamie Wilson making an unimpeded run toward the goal, dumping a pass to an uncovered Faez Ahmed in the crease with 11:40 left in the game.
In the final six minutes, both coaches got all their reserves into the game to make sure all the players got to experience playing at state.
The game proved to be a final showcase for Johnson. His 35 assists this season is believed to be a state record. His 42 goals and 118 points this season rank among the leading scorers in the state.
Tiger coach Darian Blattner said he believes Johnson should be a first team all-state player and that his goal and play in Friday’s game should show coaches all over the state why he thinks that way.
“It was really a nice play,” Blattner said of Johnson’s goal. “He can do some really special things when he has the opportunity.”
Blattner said he was pleased to play evenly with Brookfield East through the first half. In the second half, the coaches had the team play more in an attack mode, which forced the defense to play more forward than usual. The plan for the second half was also to work the ball wide, because Brookfield was so strong up the middle.
“We weren’t able to make the halftime adjustments stick,” Blattner said.
While the loss stung, Blattner said he was proud of the performance of the team and of where the program has grown, by reaching state three times in four years.
“We’re getting more program recognition. The next step is we have to come down here and win a game, then win two games,” Blattner said.