Injuries undermine Tigers in first state appearance
The New Richmond boys soccer team clearly gave everything it had in its first appearance in the WIAA state soccer tournament last Friday.
However, injuries undermined many of the Tigers’ plans, causing New Richmond to lose 2-1 to Elkhorn in the Division 2 state semifinals at the Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee. In Saturday’s Division 2 state championship game, Elkhorn lost to Whitefish Bay, 4-0.
The Tigers went into Friday’s game hoping that somehow, team leading scorer Adam Schoepke would be able to play. Schoepke suffered a deep contusion in the Tigers’ sectional championship game win over Marshfield and the leg was severely swollen and painful. He started the game, but asked for a substitute after 10 minutes of action, with his mobility seriously limited.
Tiger soccer coach Pete Melloy compared Schoepke’s absence to how the New Richmond football team would look if leading rusher Sam Altena was out of the lineup.
“We weren’t the same team without him,” Melloy said. “We didn’t play our game because we didn’t have all the pieces there.”
Schoepke’s injury taxed the Tigers’ depth and it would be further stretched when Tyler Blattner suffered an ankle injury late in the first half.
Melloy would have preferred to have Schoepke and Zach Landt, his two most experienced players, start on the outside on defense. From there, they have free rein to create offensive chances, but are also key cogs in the Tigers’ outstanding defense. In the 15 games leading into the state tournament, the Tigers had outscored opponents 66-2. Schoepke was the team’s leading scorer with 28 goals.
The Tigers did manage to score the opening goal of the game at the 10:23 mark. Landt used his explosive quickness to carry the ball into the left corner of the offensive zone. He crossed a pass to the front of the net, where junior Sean Flandrick had made a perfectly timed run toward the net. Flandrick redirected the ball past the Elkhorn keeper to net the first state tournament goal in Tiger history.
The lead lasted just 33 seconds. Elkhorn’s Sid Babu, one of the team’s leading scorers, had the ball come clean to him, from congestion in front of the Tiger net. He was able to get away a quick shot before Tiger keeper Blake Getschel could adjust.
“Their strength was up top,” Melloy said of the Elkhorn forwards. “When they got opportunities, they finished.”
There wouldn’t be another goal for almost 50 minutes of play. The Tigers are most comfortable when playing a ball control style, but without Schoepke and Blattner, it became difficult for the Tigers to maintain control of the ball for stretches of time. The best scoring chances the Tigers could create during the rest of the game were when Landt made runs deep into Elkhorn territory.
Elkhorn scored in transition off a Tiger offensive charge at 71:10. Elkhorn quickly got the ball back upfield and Babu was able to find open space to shoot from point blank range.
The Tigers tried to create more offensive chances late in the game, but Elkhorn kept close tabs on Landt. The Tigers got the ball deep into Elkhorn territory, including a corner kick with 90 seconds left, but they were unable to put another shot on goal.
Melloy said reaching the state tournament for the first time puts the Tiger program on a higher plateau. He said the players handled the pressure of competing at a state tournament exceptionally well.
“I thought the boys were pretty composed and they approached things the right way,” he said.
The Tigers became a varsity program 12 years ago and Melloy has coached the team throughout that run. He said this year’s seniors deserve credit for bringing the program to this level of success.
“Everyone bought in and they made history,” Melloy said. “I think there will be a lot more New Richmond kids going to state in the future.”