MINNEAPOLIS — A model of efficiency, Eastview scored goals on its only three shots on goal while upending Stillwater 3-1 in Monday’s Class AA state semifinal game at the Metrodome.
The Lightning struck quickly and without notice while becoming the first team all season to score more than one goal in a game against Stillwater (15-2-4) — earning the chance to face Blaine for the boys’ soccer state title on Thursday.
“I thought we played well, but they obviously finished on their opportunities and we did not,” said senior Roma Devine, who scored Stillwater’s only goal with about seven minutes remaining in the game. “I thought we played better than them, we just did not finish today.”
The Ponies were outscored, but not necessarily outplayed while holding a 10-7 advantage in shots on goal.
“We’ve had a few games like that this year where we don’t get more opportunities than the other team but we take advantage of them,” said Lightning coach Scott Gustafson, a 1988 Stillwater graduated who played for Ponies coach Phil Johnson. “That’s a classic case of what happened in the first half tonight.”
Jacob Opheim struck first for the Eastview 25 minutes into the first half and Pierce Erickson landed another blow with less than two minutes remaining to give the Lightning a 2-0 lead.
That second goal, which started with harmless-looking ball that bounded into the box where Erickson knocked into the corner of the net with his left foot.
“We had to overcome quite a bit when you give up two,” Johnson said. “The two things we failed to do in this game is that we did an awful lot of backing up, rather than going to challenge the ball. On that one, it was a player who demonstrated how to run right through a ball without having to settle and bring it down. The ball was just in the air too much and we didn’t handle the ball that bounced very well.”
Erickson added his second goal seven minutes into the second half to provide even more breathing room.
Two of Eastview’s three goals were set up at least in part by the monumental throw-ins by Nicholas Mhirpiri, who actually threw one directly into the goal from the sideline in the first half — although it was waived off.
“He was a factor,” Johnson said.
“I think he’s got 14 assists this season, all off throw-ins,” Gustafson said. “Even in our own end, it’s a counter attack because he can whip the ball 50 yards and you don’t have to worry about getting boxed in your own end. It’s crazy that he can throw the ball 40 or 50 yards like that.”
The Ponies just didn’t have the extra hop in their step that was apparent during a 6-0 section finals victory over East Ridge or the 2-1 quarterfinal victory over Owatonna.
“We didn’t handle the size of the field and we didn’t find each other’s feet,” Johnson said. “We got too separated from our backs to our forwards.
“I thought Roma (Devine) was really strong in his efforts and Kevin (Meads) was strong. When I look at the chances that we allowed them to have, they finished on them. You can’t let anything bounce in the back and it’s got to be cleared out and that was a tough lesson for some to wait for a ball to bounce. You’ve got to meet that ball because this game needs to be brought down on the ground and we contributed to it being in the air too much.”
Gustafson was going to make sure his team did everything it could to advance, but he admitted mixed emotions that the victory came at the expense of his former coach in his final season.
“They’re an amazing team, a super strong team and we just made them count when we had the opportunities,” Gustafson said. “I wish it had happened to a different coach because you always want to see someone as classy and somebody that has given so much back to the game to having them win their last game, but when I’m on the other side of the bench as him my job is to get my team prepared to win.
“That’s the way it is, somebody has to walk out a winner and a loser and I’m glad it’s us. It’s nothing to take away from him and the program he’s built there, because he is Stillwater soccer and whoever comes in to replace him is going to have big shoes to fill and they’re going to have to be a very special person to do the type of things that he’s been able to do over his lifetime there. I’ll miss coaching against him on the sidelines and wish good luck to him and his endeavors in the future.”
Eastview 2 1 — 3
Stillwater 0 1 — 1
Eas — 25:20 — Jacob Opheim (Sam Fluegge)
Eas — 38:53 — Pierce Erickson (unassisted)
Eas — 6:55 — Erickson (Jonathan Lenz)
St — 32:56 — Roma Devine (penalty kick)
Shots — Eas: 4-3—7; St: 7-3—10
Shots on goal — Eas: 2-1—3; St: 3-1—4.
Corner kicks — Eas: 1-3—4; St: 2-1—3.
Fouls — Eas: 8-6—14; St: 6-1—7.
Goalie saves — Eas: Kyle Lamott 3; St: Ben Wilhelm 0.