OAK PARK HEIGHTS — Avoiding the upset bug which plagued the other top seeds in Section 4AA, the second-seeded Stillwater boys soccer team scored early and often in the first half on the way to a 6-1 quarterfinal victory over Tartan on Wednesday, Oct. 14 at Stillwater Area High School.
It was the sixth victory in a row for the Ponies (8-2-2), who have outscored their opponents by a combined 19-3 during that span.
“This is the best time of the year,” Ponies coach Jake Smothers said. “This is what the kids sign up for and it’s why high school soccer is great. It’s what everybody gets excited about. We’re playing really well and confident and having fun. The kids are enjoying it. From a competitive perspective, I really like the development of the team. The kids are still having a good time and tonight was another reflection of that.”
The other three top seeds in the section were not as fortunate. Top-seeded East Ridge lost to eighth-seeded Park 2-1 and fourth-seeded Hastings was blanked by White Bear Lake 5-0. In Stillwater’s half of the draw, No. 3 Woodbury lost to sixth-seeded North St. Paul in a penalty kick shoot-out.
The Ponies will host North St. Paul (3-6-1) in the semifinals on Tuesday, Oct. 20.
Stillwater wasted little time against the Titans as Gora Gora sparked the Ponies with the first of his three goals just 11 seconds into the game.
Carson Arco scored on an assist from Matt Folden in the 11th minute and Gora struck again just seconds later to increase Stillwater’s lead to 3-0.
Gora also scored in the 16th minute on an assist from Julian Schwendelman for a four-goal cushion.
“We asked the players to come out and be not just competitive, but we wanted to put pressure on Tartan right away,” Smothers said. “We knew that we were the stronger team and we wanted to put a lot of pressure on them. We took a lot of chances defensively and pressured in some areas we normally wouldn’t do and it paid dividends right off the bat.”
The Ponies added to their lead midway through the second half as Peter Leach scored his first-ever varsity goal in the 58th minute on an assist from Gora.
The gusty conditions did not deter Stillwater, which held a 29-3 advantage in shots on goal.
“The weather was a little unnerving, there was a big wind,” Smothers said. “We didn’t want to let the elements play a big factor and dictate the game. Getting four early goals was just an extension of how we’ve played and our mentality going into it.”
Tartan (2-8-1) eventually broke through with a goal in the 69th minute.
“(The wind) contributed to the goal we gave up,” Smothers said.
After notching an assist earlier in the game, Schwendelman notched his first varsity goal to close out the scoring for the Ponies in the 78th minute.
“We did a lot of things tonight to make the game enjoyable,” Smothers said. “Julian and Peter getting their first varsity goals was nice to see.”
The soccer community continues to press the Minnesota State High School League to allow a state tournament, but Smothers wants to make sure the Ponies are in top form regardless of where that leads.
“This is a team that wants to win the section tournament and if there’s not a state tournament, we wanted to feel like they are playing like champions,” Smothers said. “They’re already conference champions and now we have a path to be section champs if everything works out.”
Tartan 0 1 — 1
Stillwater 4 2 — 6
St — 1:00 — Gora Gora (unassisted)
St — 11:00 — Carson Arco (Matt Folden)
St — 11:00 — Gora (unassisted)
St — 16:00 — Gora (Julian Schwendelman)
St — 58:00 — Peter Leach (Gora)
Tar — 69:00 — Alex Bearth (NA)
St — 78:00 — Schwendelman (Riley Buxell)
Shots on goal — Tar: 3; St: 29.
Corner kicks — Tar: 0; St: 6.
Fouls — Tar: 7; St: 9.
Goalie saves — Tar: Anthony Recchio 17; St: Jake Huenink 0 and Derek Dopkins 1.