So close to back-to-back titles for Lightning

North St. Paul wins on penalty kicks in boys soccer final

Eastview's Brett Ladoux (11) and North St. Paul's Nick Gilbert go after a ball in the air during the state Class AA boys soccer championship game. Photo by Rick Orndorf

Eastview’s Brett Ladoux (11) and North St. Paul’s Nick Gilbert go after a ball in the air during the state Class AA boys soccer championship game. Photo by Rick Orndorf

It could have been Eastview’s biggest comeback story in a postseason full of rallies – if only North St. Paul had been willing to play along.

Three times the Lightning fell one goal behind in the state Class AA boys soccer championship game, and three times it came back, eventually sending the game to overtime. After 20 minutes of scoreless play in overtime, Eastview’s magic finally ran out in the penalty-kick shootout. North St. Paul converted on all five of its attempts. Eastview made four of its shots, but one hit the goalpost, providing North St. Paul with its 4-3 margin of victory Oct. 31 at the Metrodome.

Eastview, the defending state champion, played in the title game for the third consecutive year. It also was the fourth straight playoff game in which the Lightning trailed. The previous three times, the team was able to come back and win. The fourth time, Eastview came up narrowly, agonizingly short.

Coach Scott Gustafson told a disconsolate group of players after the championship game to remember what it took to get to the championship game and not focus on the loss.

“Don’t let this game define you,” Gustafson told them.

The coach said later he wanted to make sure the players realized that while the loss would be difficult to accept, they all would take on more important tasks in their lives than playing soccer.

“Even if we do everything we can to win a game like this, you’re still looking at failing about 50 percent of the time,” he said.

The Lightning and Polars played a wide-open, aggressive game that included 42 shots (23 by North St. Paul) and 37 fouls, including four that drew yellow cards.

North scored the game’s first goal in the 30th minute, but Eastview responded about eight minutes later on a bending, 20-yard shot by Sam Fluegge that found the upper right corner.

The Polars regained the lead 7:13 into the second half, but 10 minutes later Eastview tied the game on a goal by senior midfielder Jack Teske. Jacob Wilson got an assist after receiving a long throw-in from Fluegge.

The play looked similar to one that produced the winning goal in Eastview’s 2-1 overtime victory over Owatonna in the state quarterfinals.

North St. Paul’s Justin Oliver, the Class AA Mr. Soccer award winner, took a pass from his twin brother Tyler and went in alone on Eastview goalie Kyle Lamott to score another go-ahead goal with 13:11 remaining.

Eastview players watch nervously during the penalty kick shootout at the end of the state Class AA boys soccer championship game. Photo by Rick Orndorf

Eastview players watch nervously during the penalty kick shootout at the end of the state Class AA boys soccer championship game. Photo by Rick Orndorf

That looked like it could clinch the title for North St. Paul – except it didn’t. With less than four minutes remaining, Polars’ goalkeeper Tommy Molski stopped a shot by Pierce Erickson but couldn’t control the rebound. Eastview junior forward Brett Ladoux pounced on it and scored.

After two relatively uneventful overtime sessions (five shots total) the teams lined up for a shootout in the last state high school soccer tournament game played in the Metrodome, which is scheduled to be torn down early next year to make way for a new stadium.

North St. Paul’s shooters worked the right side of the goal and scored on all five of their attempts. Fluegge, Andrew Tuthill, Matthew Heinen and Teske scored for the Lightning. Erickson also beat the Polars’ goalkeeper but his shot rebounded off the goalpost.

Erickson, an All-State player and the Lightning’s leading scorer, wore a look of disbelief on his face long after the game ended. Said Gustafson: “He’s our best player. We wouldn’t be here if not for him.”

Eastview had 11 underclassmen on its state tournament roster. Asked if the Lightning had enough to return to state next season, Gustafson said the program’s success the last three years has created a culture where state berths are viewed as realistic.

The Lightning lost in the state championship game two years ago, and there were some who thought it might be a while before Eastview was back in the final. The team was there again 12 months later, and won. Twelve months after that, Eastview was on the brink of another title.

The lesson, Gustafson said, is that anything is possible, and that’s a message he’s likely to relay to the 2014 Lightning.

up arrow