RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- The difference between winning and losing a playoff game in a shootout is the difference between jubilation and heartache. New Richmond was on the jubilation side in its WIAA Division 1 regional final against River Falls Saturday, Oct. 24, at Ramer Field.
The Tigers and Wildcats played to a scoreless tie through 90 minutes of regulation and 20 minutes of overtime, meaning who would advance to the sectional round and who would go home would be decided by penalty kicks.
And when New Richmond senior Clay Gess buried the Tigers’ fifth and final shot of the shootout, it was the third-seeded Tigers who lived to play another day while the Wildcats saw their season end.
“We didn't game plan to go to overtime or penalty kicks, but it just turned out that way and our kids handled it really well,” New Richmond coach Darian Blattner said. “Some may have seen it as ugly soccer, but at this time of the year teams do whatever they need to for the opportunity to keep playing.”
The Tigers will move on to face top-seeded Hudson in a sectional semifinal Thursday night, Oct. 29, at 7 p.m. in Hudson, while River Falls is going home after suffering just their second loss of the season.
“It was a tough way to go,” Wildcat coach Marcos Rodriguez said. “We did well pressing and attacking, and we created chances but just came up short on them.”
The Wildcats took a 6-2 decision from the Tigers during the regular season, but both teams were missing players due to Covid quarantining in Saturday’s regional final. New Richmond was without three starters and a couple of reserves while the Wildcats were missing two of their key attackers.
“I couldn't be more proud of their effort, their perseverance through the loss of teammates and how they battled from start to finish,” Blattner said about his New Richmond squad. “They knew nobody was going to feel sorry for us and lots of teams are dealing with covid and injuries this time of the year. They embraced the game plan and executed it to perfection.”
Rodriguez said the Wildcats were limited in what they could do offensively.
“Not having our two best attacking players showed in not creating as many chances as we did the first time playing them,” he noted. “But I thought we handled ourselves really well, given how the week played out.”
Tiger goalkeeper Taylor Pinx and Wildcat keeper Ben Matheson kept the game scoreless through 110 minutes of play before becoming the center of attention in the five-round shootout. New Richmond’s Cohan Hare gave New Richmond the early advantage with a goal, and after the Wildcats shot wide and the Tigers hit the post, Matheson came up with a big stop of Joe Casey's attempt to keep the Tigers’ advantage at one.
Miles Longsdorf found the back of the net on the Wildcats’ third attempt but Aidan Westmoreland answered for New Richmond before the Wildcats’ fourth shot hit the crossbar to give the Tigers a 2-1 advantage after four rounds. That’s when Gess scored the Tigers’ third goal of the shootout on their fifth shot to keep New Richmond’s season alive.
“All five of our penalty kick shooters did a great job of putting the ball on goal and giving us a chance,” Blattner said. “We got unlucky with one ball hitting the post and their keeper making a great save. But taking those kicks in that situation comes with a ton of pressure and our kids didn't shy away from it.”
Blattner said the Tigers are looking forward to their rematch with Hudson, especially since it means they get to extend their season.
“We are looking forward to Hudson on Thursday because we get to practice today and keep playing where other teams' seasons have ended,” he said. “We know Hudson is a great team and they are having a great season and they are the odds-on favorite to make it to the state tournament. But the way this crazy season has gone we are happy to be playing and knowing our kids, this time around, we will give them some intense competition.”
Rodriguez, meanwhile, said the Wildcats have nothing to hang their heads about.
“Overall I thought we had a good year given the shorter preseason and everything else going on,” he said. “I think we took a step for the program. The future’s bright for us and it should be another good year for us next year.”