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Tigers sharpen in battle of top seeds

New Richmond's Phillip Neblich (10) is one of the additions who has helped build the depth of the Tiger squad this season. Dave Newman / RiverTown Multimedia

To get better, you face the best.

So, to get ready for the WIAA playoffs, the New Richmond boys soccer took on the best team in western Wisconsin.

The Tigers head into the WIAA Division 2 playoffs as the top seed in the section. They will open the WIAA playoffs on Thursday at 7 p.m., hosting eighth seed Tomah. If the Tigers win Thursday, they will play at home again at 1 p.m. on Saturday against the winner of Thursday's game between Onalaska and La Crosse Central.

So who does the top seed in Division 2 play to get better? The top seed in Division 1, of course. That would be Eau Claire Memorial, who the Tigers hosted on Saturday. The Old Abes scored three times in the first half, but the Tigers played them evenly in the second half of the 3-0 final.

"That was the best team we've seen all year," Tiger coach Darian Blattner said enthusiastically after getting to face the challenging opponent.

Eau Claire Memorial scored a couple minutes into the game and got two more goals later in the half.

"In the first half we made four mistakes and they scored off three of them," Blattner said.

He said he hoped the game would show the Tigers how quickly they have to react and how those type of mistakes could be the difference in an important playoff game.

The Tigers played their final Middle Border Conference game last Thursday at Cumberland, winning 6-1. The Tigers fell just short of their goal of winning an MBC title, finishing with a 6-1-1 conference record.

It took the Tigers a while to get clicking on the wet turf at Cumberland. Tyler Blattner scored at the 18:32 mark and AJ Johnson scored 10 seconds later. Johnson rang up two more goals in the next five minutes.

With those goals, he broke the New Richmond single-season scoring record. He added another goal later, which gives him 39 goals. Eric Miller set the previous goal in 2012 when he scored 37 goals.

Goals later in the game came from Philip Neblich, Mason Marek and Kyler Bengston, his first as a Tiger.

The Tigers got their chance at a rematch with Baldwin-Woodville, a week after tying the Blackhawks in a game that ruined the Tigers' hopes for an MBC title. This time, the Tigers started fast and continued to control the action in a 6-2 win over the Blackhawks.

Jose Rapalo started the scoring, netting goals in the 13th minute and again in the 25th minute.

"Jose had his best game of the season by far," Blattner said.

Johnson scored the next three Tiger goals, all by the 33rd minute. Tyler Blattner scored the Tigers' only goal of the second half.

The rematch with B-W was played on Senior Night and the Tigers played with a clear urgency, not wanting to send their seniors out on a sour note.

The Tigers started 10 seniors, including Sean Flandrick. Flandrick was injured in the opening week of the season and likely won't be back for full action this season. To open the game, he took off his protective boot and was able to play the first few seconds, getting a couple touches on the ball before he was subbed out.

"It was a good moment for him," Coach Blattner said.

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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