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Regional champs are confident heading into Hodag rematch

Regional champs are confident heading into Hodag rematch Regional champs are confident heading into Hodag rematch


In the post-season, the only thing that matters is advancing to the next round. But earning a little revenge in the process is fun too.

Having lost two regular-season matchups in three days to Lakeland back in late September, the Medford Raiders were more than pleased to get another shot at the Thunderbirds in Saturday’s WIAA Division 2 boys soccer regional final at Raider Field and they certainly got the last laugh for the 2020 version of the rivalry with a 6-0 win.

The Raiders quickly took control, scoring twice in the first 6:08. From there, they executed their defensive game plan, which was to make sure Lakeland’s standout freshman Yaroslav Myshchyshyn got no room to work. An insurance goal in the 74th minute broke down the T-Birds for good as they allowed Medford to tack on three goals in a 51-second span just before time expired.

“That was part of it, redemption,” Medford head coach Nathan Bilodeau said after Medford won the second regional title of the program’s 12-season history. “The other part is it’s win or go home. When everything’s on the line, there’s a heightened sense of competitiveness. I told the boys in practice Friday, this could be our last practice. I think that’s kind of a surreal feeling, especially for the seniors. That intensity, it just escalates in these playoff games. We had a great week of practice, really focusing specifically on this game, mostly because of what happened.”

In 5-0 and 2-0 losses to Lakeland on Sept. 22 and 24, the Raiders were severely short-handed due to injuries and quarantines. At full strength Saturday, it was a different story.

“When we played them the first time they really took it to us,” sophomore cocaptain Zach Rudolph said. “We didn’t really have our players. So it’s good to get a fair shot at them and take it to them.”

Next up on Medford’s revenge tour is Rhinelander (12-2 overall) in a WIAA Division 2 sectional semifinal today, Thursday, on the Hodags’ home field. The teams split the season series, but the Hodags won the one that mattered, 1-0, back on Sept. 17. That win wound up being the difference in the Hodags winning the GNC championship by a game over Medford (9-3 overall).

Tonight’s kickoff is at 7 p.m. at Rhinelander’s Mike Webster Stadium.

Rudolph had Medford’s first good scoring chance just 55 seconds into Saturday’s game, but his header off an Aaron Schield corner kick went wide right. But another Schield corner kick at 3:13 produced better results. Lakeland was unable to clear the ball and Colton Gowey was in the right place at the right time, knocking the ball past T-Bird goalie Carter Quade for a quick 1-0 lead.

At 6:08, senior co-captain Owen Wipf made a hard run with the ball up the left side and was tripped in the goalie box, creating a penalty shot opportunity. Gage Neubauer took the shot and, though he didn’t place it exactly where he wanted it, he got the score off the bottom of the crossbar for a 2-0 lead.

“I lined up and I was going to go left,” Neubauer said. “I was looking right to throw the keeper off hopefully. He dove left right before I kicked, so I tried tapping it right and went off the bar and down. I was like, ‘well it happened.’ Then I just tried to play it cool, like I meant to do that.”

“It’s that mentality that we’ve got to win this game,” Bilodeau said of the good start. “If we come out early, come out swinging and put them on their heels, they’re going to be taken back. That’s exactly what happened. I told the guys we have to be 110% for 90 minutes today. There’s no backing down, there’s no letting up. We’re fortunate to have everyone healthy. We have a full bench which allows us to make some substitutions, keep guys fresh, keep them healthy out there. Even if they’re a little gassed, we can just get them out for a few minutes, get some water, catch your breath and we can get them right back on the pitch.”

A couple of scoring chances eluded Medford just after that second goal. From there, the game turned into a defensive battle with few good chances. Lakeland seemingly had nothing resembling a solid shot on goal until the second half. Their best shot was a 40-yard laser by Myshchyshyn that just went outside the top right corner at the 54-minute mark.

“He was our key coming into this game,” Rudolph said of the team’s plan to make sure Myshchyshyn was always shadowed. “We knew he was good. He was the leading scorer in the GNC. Just stopping him stops their whole offense. Everything tends to key off him.”

“That really worked,” Neubauer added. “We would just have a defender come up and just contain him and not stab at him. He likes to dance and then he’ll go right around you.”

“He’s dangerous no matter where he is,” Bilodeau said. “Offensively, defensively, the middle of the field, the attacking third, it doesn’t matter. He makes an impact on the field. But going into this game, we had a game plan and it was to shut him down.”

The lengthy scoring stalemate was finally broken when Neubauer used his left foot to knock in Medford’s third goal of the night at 73:38. The play started with a sideline throw-in from Wipf.

“Normally we’ll have set plays, but that time Owen just threw it in,” Rudolph said. “He threw it off my head and it just happened to go right on (Gage’s) foot.”

“I think the goalie thought Zach was trying to shoot with his head and he leaned that way and I just tapped it in,” Neubauer said.

With Lakeland’s will broken, the Raiders poured it on starting with a Rudolph goal at 88:31. Gowey scored again 25 seconds later and then with 38 seconds left in the game, Gowey’s crossing pass from right to left was perfectly placed on Kale Klussendorf’s foot for the final goal.

Medford goal keeper Brady Hupf and his defensive teammates earned the team’s sixth shutout win of the season and the fifth during the team’s current seven-game winning streak.

“Our plan coming in was to just keep the pedal going,” Rudolph said. “Just take it to them right away, don’t stop, don’t let up, score and just keep scoring.”

“Play the whole 90 minutes hard,” Neubauer said. “You can rest after. Leave it all out there.”

Sectional outlook

Tonight’s matchup with Rhinelander is another one the Raiders have been looking forward to. The Sept. 17 matchup was scoreless until the Hodags’ top offensive player, Hugh Wiese, scored with 10 minutes left. That goal didn’t come long after Klussendorf was issued a controversial red card for a collision with Rhinelander goal keeper Gavin Osterman.

In the rematch Oct. 15, Rhinelander rested most of its starters in the final game of the regular season and Medford easily won 7-0.

“They know that that’s not the real team,” Bilodeau said of the 7-0 win. “Going back to the second game of the season when we played Rhinelander, it was neck and neck. It was a close match. We had a red card, we were down a guy. We’ve actually been able to watch Rhinelander film from other games, which is helpful. We’ve got a pretty good idea as to how they play, their formation. They have a couple of key players we have to be careful of. If we go in with a solid game plan like we did tonight I’m confident that we’ll beat that team.”

Wiese was Rhinelander’s top scorer in the regular season. In nine GNC games, he tallied nine goals and five assists. Osterman was 8-1 as the goalie with 42 saves on 50 shots on goal.

In league play, the Hodags outshot their opponents by more than a two-to- Sectional final here Saturday

one margin.

Medford, though, rides plenty of momentum and confidence into the semifinal matchup and has every reason to believe it can win.

“The first time we played them, we were unlucky in the last minute of the game,” Rudolph said. “Our boys are ready to come back and take it to them.”

The winner advances to Saturday’s WIAA Division 2 sectional final, which will be played on Medford’s Raider Field at 4 p.m. The other sectional semifinal today has top-seeded Rice Lake hosting that half-sectional’s three-seed, Unity-St. Croix Falls.

Rice Lake has been an annual power in what is normally a Division 3 sectional for this area, earning four state berths since 2014. The Warriors went 4-3-1 in the primarily Division 1 Big Rivers Conference and are 6-3-1 overall. They knocked out fifth-seeded Amery 3-0 in their regional final Saturday.

They aren’t a particularly highscoring team. Jake Englebritson leads them in scoring with seven goals and six assists, while Griffin Van Gilder and Edger Sanchez have five goals each. But they don’t give up much either, having allowed just 1.5 goals per game. Two of their three losses were to Hudson, both 3-0. They went 0-1-1 against River Falls (2-2 and 4-2).

Unity-St. Croix Falls is 9-3 and knocked second-seeded Somerset 2-0 in their regional final Saturday. They went 7-3 in the Heart O’ North Conference and finished second behind 9-0 Barron, who they lost to by scores of 4-1 and 2-1.

Rice Lake figures to easily be the best team Unity-St. Croix Falls has faced this season.

Medford’s Colton Gowey tries to maintain control of the soccer ball while circling around Lakeland defender Abe Evenhouse. Gowey had two goals in the 6-0 win.MATT FREY/THE STAR NEWS

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