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Tigers see MBC soccer title slip away

New Richmond’s Carter Hagen (17) tries to lead a charge into the offensive zone during last week’s loss to Barron. (Photo by Dave Newman)

The New Richmond boys soccer team went into last week needed one win in its final two games to earn a share of the Middle Border Conference championship.

That win never happened. The Tigers hit a sudden offensive famine and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. The Tigers were upset on their home field last Tuesday by Barron, 1-0. That left the Tigers in a tie with Amery in a winner-takes-all showdown for the conference title on Saturday. Again, the Tigers couldn’t take advantage of their scoring chances, losing at Amery 2-1.

For much of the season, the Tigers looked like locks to repeat as MBC champions, only to finish 14-2 with losses in their final games.

The Tigers don’t have much time to regroup, either. They begin WIAA Division 2 regional tournament action this Thursday with a home game at 4 p.m. against Tomah. New Richmond drew the third seed in the bracket while Tomah is the sixth seed.

After the flops in last week’s games, Tiger coach Pete Melloy said he expects his team to bring a much higher intensity level to the playoff games. That will begin with extremely intense practices in the days leading up to the game.

“We’ve got to bring the intensity right from the start. We can’t let teams hang around,” Melloy said.

The winner of Thursday’s game will be back in action Saturday, likely playing at River Falls.

Melloy was emphasizing intensity, because he felt it was lacking in the Tigers’ two losses last week.

The 1-0 loss to Barron started to raise concerns about the Tigers’ play. The Tigers possessed the ball for stretches of the game, but rarely were they able to produce good scoring chances.

Barron was just as effective in keeping control of the ball for extended stretches. That’s what led to the only goal of the game. Barron was able to keep the ball in the attacking zone, getting it near the goal several times. From a scrum in front of the net, the Bears scored the game’s only goal, with 35 seconds remaining in the first half.

Melloy said the Tigers struggled to clear the ball out from their defensive zone against Barron’s intense pressure.

“It was a bad day, it wasn’t typical. There was no sense of urgency. You let them hang around (your goal) and that’s what happens,” Melloy said.

New Richmond’s coaches were hoping the loss to Barron would spark a fire for Saturday’s game, especially knowing that Amery would be missing its goalkeeper and one of its leading scorers.

“I don’t think they cared that much (about winning the conference title), based on what I saw,” Melloy said. “We were going through the motions.”

While the Tigers again had an edge in time of ball possession, they were never able to turn that ball ownership into scoring chances. The intensity level didn’t change when Amery scored 38:33 into the game.

Amery extended the lead to 2-0 with 11:13 left in regulation. That finally led to the Tigers upping their intensity. Senior Nathan Feiner scored an unassisted goal with 3:12 left to play, but the Tigers couldn’t produce another goal.

Melloy said Feiner was playing with an injury, but he was the one Tiger who played with an intensity level on Saturday.

“He was at best 50 percent. He put his heart and soul into it, but he was the only guy I saw who was playing that hard,” Melloy said of Feiner.

The loss drops the Tigers’ record to 17-5-2.  The Tigers have averaged more than eight goals per game this season, outscoring their opponents 137-27, but that didn’t matter when scoring was needed the most.

“It’s a pretty humbling experience,” Melloy said of losing the conference championship. “Nothing is given to anybody and we didn’t earn it.”

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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