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Heartbreak for Raider booters: Lose sectional final in sudden death shootout

Hudson junior Alex Schnobrich stretches but can't get his foot on a crossing pass in front of an open net in the first half of the Raiders' WIAA sectional semifinal game against Wausau East last Thursday at the middle school field. Schnobrich scored the only goal of the game in the second half to lift Hudson to a 1-0 victory and send them to the sectional final game Saturday against Eau Claire Memorial where they lost in a shootout. Photo by Bob Burrows

A shootout loss, by its nature, is heartbreaking. When that loss comes in the seventh round of a sudden death shootout with a berth at the state tournament on the line, it's downright gut-wrenching.

That's what happened to the Raider boys' soccer team last Saturday in a WIAA sectional semifinal at Dorais Field in Chippewa Falls. After battling top-seed and Big Rivers Conference champion Eau Claire Memorial to a scoreless tie through 80 minutes of regulation and 20 minutes of overtime, and taking an early lead in the shootout, the Raiders saw their season come to an end after seven rounds of penalty kicks.

"Shootouts are always a tough way to lose a game, particularly after leading the shootout and being so close to victory," Hudson coach Steve Sollom said. "But this was one of the toughest losses I've ever been a part of. The kids were confident, and were encouraging each other, and really believed they could do it. And to be so close..."

Memorial had the better of the play in the first half, but Raider goalkeeper Mitch Rosiejka made a couple of nice saves and Hudson's defenders blocked a couple more shots out front.

"We were a bit nervous and they have a lot of good athletes who pressured us into mistakes the first half," Sollom said.

Hudson began generating some offense in the second half by playing with short, controlled passes and switching the field but struggled a bit on the hard artificial turf.

"I'm pretty sure we would have connected on one of our crosses, but the ball kept running out of bounds," Sollom noted. "Even so, we played much of the second half in their end."

Both teams had a chance in the overtime. Eau Claire Memorial took a low shot to the far corner that Rosiejka made a diving save on, and Hudson had a cross that found Henry Brose alone streaking toward the keeper and trying to volley the ball past him, but a Memorial defender cleared it off the line as it bounced toward the goal.

"Although it was 0-0, it really was a great high school soccer match with a lot of action," Sollom said. "Our kids played their tails off and gave a great effort, and I think had the better of the play for most of the second half and the overtimes. If we had more time, I think we would have been the team that scored. Unfortunately, the game then has to go to penalty kicks to decide a winner."

Each team had five penalty kicks in the shootout and the Raiders converted their first three shots while Rosiejka saved one of Memorial's shots to give Hudson a 3-2 lead. But Hudson's next shot hit the inside of the goal post and rolled across the open net without going in.

"Another one-quarter inch and the ball goes in off the post and we win," Sollom said.

The score was tied, 4-4, after five rounds, meaning the outcome would be decided in sudden death with extra shooters. Rosiejka saved Memorial's first shot but Hudson's game-winning attempt was miss-hit on the hard turf and rolled harmlessly to the Old Abe keeper.

Memorial's seventh shooter scored, and Hudson's attempt to keep the shootout tied sailed wide left, giving the Old Abes the sectional championship.

"I saw our guys dig really deep and show a lot of heart in this match, and I couldn't have been more proud of our effort," Sollom said. "Eau Claire is usually thought of being the tough, gritty team and we being more of the skilled finesse team, but on Saturday both teams showed plenty of both styles. They played hard as well and deserved to win just as much as we did, and luck happened to be on their side just when it looked like we had it in our grasp."

Sollom said both teams struggled a bit with the bouncing ball on the hard artificial turf and getting under the ball, and it was evident in both team's penalty shots.

"Eau Claire's coaches also complained about it before the game as well, as it just changes the game too much," Sollom said. "We both agreed it was too bad we couldn't have played on a traditional field."

The Raiders advanced to the sectional with a 1-0 win over Wisconsin Valley Conference champion Wausau East in Thursday's semifinal.

After several breakaway chances came up empty in the first half, Hudson's Alex Schnobrich converted a nice pass from Henry Brose in the second half for the only goal of the game.

"The second half, we tried to control it more and play less direct," Sollom said. "I felt we were controlling play, but they nearly got the lead when they hit a free kick off of our crossbar. I think that woke us up and gave us a sense of urgency, because soon after we began a frenzy of chances in their end."

Saturday's sectional semifinal loss to Eau Claire Memorial was officially recorded as a tie, giving the Raiders a final season record of 19-5-3.

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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