Boys soccer: Ponies kick off season with three wins

The Stillwater boys’ soccer team has picked up right where it left off after opening the season with three straight victories.

The reigning Class AA state champion Ponies topped St. Paul Central 3-2 in the championship game of the Phil Johnson Cup at Stillwater Area High School on Saturday, Aug. 26 and followed that up with a 3-0 shutout at Hudson, Wis., on Tuesday, Aug. 29.

Prior to that, Stillwater kicked off the season with a 7-1 triumph over Spring Lake Park in the tournament semifinals.

The Ponies extended their winning streak to 25 in a row dating back to the start of last season.

“We’re a team growing,” Stillwater coach Jake Smothers said. “I’m really proud of the development so far and I love our mentality.”

After hosting Rosemount in another nonconference game on Sept. 1, the Ponies (3-0) open Suburban East Conference play by hosting Park on Wednesday, Sept. 6.

Stillwater 3, Hudson 0

At Hudson, Wis., Jorge Malon scored on a throw-in early in the second half to provide the game-winner as the Ponies pulled away for a 3-0 nonconference victory over Hudson on Tuesday, Aug. 29.

Playing on the Raiders’ shiny new high school stadium, Stillwater was held scoreless in the first half.

“Hudson was probably better with the ball and they possessed more,” Smothers said. of the first half. “We were impatient with our defending and were chasing the ball around.”

That changed with Malon’s tally and Ben Snyder increased Stillwater’s lead with a goal on a corner kick by Max Stauffer later in the second half. The Ponies scored on another set play when Chester Hearne drilled a corner kick directly into the corner of the net for a 3-0 advantage.

“As we got into the second half we made some changes and the press started working and we spent the majority of the second half in their half of the field,” Smothers said. “Even though the goals came on set pieces, we certainly created enough chances to get the goals and that’s what we’re going to have to do this year. We don’t have the free-flowing forwards and we don’t have the midfield we had last year.”

Fred LeClair turned away one shot to earn his first shutout of the season.

“They did a lot with the ball, but didn’t get too many opportunities on goal,” Smothers said. “They’re young like we are, but they’ll grow into themselves and be a tough opponent in their section.”

Stillwater 0 3 — 3

Hudson 0 0 — 0

Stillwater 3, St. Paul Central 2

At Oak Park Heights, Spencer Scott scored on a feed from Kyle Ammerman just 90 seconds into the game, but nothing came easy for the Ponies after that as they slipped past St. Paul Central 3-2 to claim the title in the Phil Johnson Cup on Saturday, Aug. 26 at SAHS.

“I thought it was a great start for us, but Central settled really quickly and started playing,” Smothers said.

The Minutemen answered in the 15th minute and scored again just three minutes later to forge a 2-1 lead. It marked the first time since the 2015 season the Ponies have allowed an opponent to score consecutive goals.

“It was interesting to watch us respond to that,” Smothers said.

Stillwater nearly gave up a third goal shortly thereafter, but started turning up the pressure before the end of the opening half and continued to push after the intermission.

One of the team’s key returning players from a year ago, Spencer Scott scored on a free kick from long distance midway through the second half as Stillwater pulled even at 2-all.

“Our kids responded really well,” Smothers said.

Then with about seven minutes remaining in regulation, Hearne sent a ball into the box that Daniel Muths knocked into the keeper. The ball fell to Muths with his back to the net and he heeled it backwards into the net for the deciding goal.

“It was a great goal,” Smothers said.

The coach was pleased the team was able to repeat as champs and it provided an opportunity for many of the team’s newer players to get involved and the offer the returning players to take over larger roles.

“These sophomores and juniors who didn’t see a lot of varsity time last year, the intensity of varsity soccer is new for them,” Smothers said. “The resiliency of that group to not lose a game was fantastic, even for the players who are brand new to all of this.”

St. Paul Central 2 0 — 2

Stillwater 1 2 — 3

Stillwater 7, Spring Lake Park 1

At Oak Park Heights, the Ponies exploded for six goals in the second half to pull away for a 7-1 win over Spring Lake Park in the semifinals of the Phil Johnson Cup on Thursday, Aug. 24 at SAHS.

It was the season opener for the Ponies and Spring Lake Park broke through first with a goal on a penalty kick.

Spencer Scott answered quickly for Stillwater on an assist from Logan Huber and the teams remained tied at halftime.

Stillwater seized control in the second half with six unanswered goals, including three during a seven-minute stretch.

Scott finished with three goals in the game and Huber added a goal to go along with the assist.

Also scoring a goal each for the Ponies were Jake Maloney, Ben Snyder and Max Timmons. Nick Purdie, Joseph Young, Nick Smetana and Daniel Muths each provided an assist.

“It was the first varsity moments for a lot who were varsity players, but down the pecking order,” Smothers said. “You could sense a bit of nerves early, but the second half started and we went off.”

Stillwater pressured throughout, with 15 shots in each half.

“We pumped a lot of shots on them,” Smothers said. “We just relaxed, and once they relaxed they played quickly and did a better job of defending.”

Spring Lake Park 1 0 — 1

Stillwater 1 6 — 7