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Tigers making sectionals a tradition

New Richmond's Andy Boerjan leaps over the Onalaska keeper as Boerjan's shot was deflected away early in Saturday's game. Later in the first half, Boerjan would have another shot blocked, but teammate AJ Johnson headed the ball into the net for the Tigers' second goal. Dave Newman / RiverTown Multimedia

The New Richmond boys soccer team will host Holmen at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 26 in the WIAA Division 2 sectional semifinal game. The winner of Thursday's game will play in the sectional championship game.

Since the WIAA went to four divisions for boys soccer in 2013, this is the fourth time in those five years where the Tigers have advanced to the sectional level. Last year was the first time the Tigers broke through and reached the state tournament, and they are looking to make that as much a tradition as reaching the sectional level has become.

The 2017 Tigers qualified for sectionals by winning a pair of games last week. The top-seeded Tigers opened tournament action on Thursday with a 5-0 win over Tomah. The second homefield win came on Saturday when the Tigers cooled off Onalaska, 3-0.

The tournament trail started slowly as the Tigers needed a few minutes to find their pace against Tomah. But once they did, they quickly took control of the game. The Tigers have made a habit of scoring in bunches and that continued in the first half against Tomah. The first goal was logged by AJ Johnson in the 20th minute and he struck again three minutes later. Kyler Bengtson scored in the 31st minute and suddenly the Tigers were in command, 3-0.

Mason Marek scored off a set play two minutes into the second half. Bengtson scored again in the 60th minute for his first multi-goal game as a Tiger.

Tiger coach Darian Blattner said the scoring may appear to come from the same players, but he's been pleased with the diversity in the scoring. In the two wins last week, seven different players had either a goal or an assist.

On Saturday the Tigers hosted Onalaska, a team they beat earlier this season by a 3-0 score. That result gave the Tigers the knowledge this wouldn't be an easy opponent. Senior Tyler Blattner showed the savvy befitting a senior in getting the Tigers a lead 7:43 into the game. A cluster of players battled for the ball near the top corner of the goalie box. The ball squirted out to Blattner and he immediately charged toward the goal. His quick move got him past his defender and he was able to fire a low shot past the Onalaska keeper.

The Tigers maintained solid control of the ball in the first half, even though Onalaska had a substantial wind at its back. The Tigers put several shots at the goalposts and crossbar before striking again in the 39th minute. Andy Boerjan got free behind the Onalaska defense and his hard shot was stopped by the keeper. But Johnson was hurriedly following the play. When the rebound caromed to the keeper's right, Johnson hurled his body at the ball, striking a header that drove the ball into the net.

The two-goal lead allowed the Tigers to concentrate on defense. And they did, limiting Onalaska to four shots on goal and only one in the second half.

"That was probably one of our best overall, if not our best performance," Coach Blattner said. "Defensively it was probably our best game."

The coaches have settled on a defensive grouping and it is gelling together smoothly. Marek is the man at the controls at the front of the defense. When the coaches decided on Nick Cheslock, Dave Miller and Jack Stuedemann as the defensive back line, it all fell together. Blattner said these guys had to sacrifice their egos because they all played different positions before.

"They've seen what's best for the team," he said. "Playing defense is a mindset and they don't get beat."

While the concentration was on defense, the Tigers did get one more goal in the second half. Johnson got the ball about 40 yards from the goal, weaved through several defenders and unleashed a shot that hit the back of the goal before the keeper could reach it.

The winner of Thursday's sectional semifinal game will advance to the sectional title game, which will be played at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 28 at Merrill. The opposition in that game will be the winner of Thursday's game between Pulaski and Wausau East. Pulaski is the school that eliminated the New Richmond girls team in the WIAA Division 2 sectional championship game last spring.

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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