Blazing Cats bag another championship

CI Division team wins soccer title to go with softball trophy

Michael Burns of Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville handles the ball during the state adapted soccer tournament. Photo by Rick Orndorf

Michael Burns of Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville handles the ball during the state adapted soccer tournament. Photo by Rick Orndorf

When he’s introduced before adapted soccer games, Stephen Friday takes the floor with a somersault, much like Ozzie Smith did in his heyday with the St. Louis Cardinals.

When Smith did it before baseball games, it helped fire up the crowd. Does it have the same effect on Friday’s teammates?

“Oh yeah, it does,” Friday said. “Every game.”

Who’s to argue? Thanks in part to its somersaulting, athletic goalie, Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville won its first state adapted soccer championship, defeating Park Center 8-1 in the CI (cognitive impairments) Division championship game Saturday at Stillwater High School. The Blazing Cats won their second state adapted sports championship; the other was in softball last spring.

Many of the adapted soccer players also were on the softball team, and Friday said that experience helped.

“Just with teamwork. It brought us all together,” he said.

The Blazing Cats rolled through a 14-0-1 season. The only game they didn’t win was a 4-4 tie against South Washington County in October. Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville didn’t get a chance for a rematch because Park Center beat South Washington County 9-8 in overtime in the state semifinals.

“I think the softball tournament experience helped because it helped the kids get used to playing in front of bigger crowds,” said Blazing Cats coach Shawn Tatge. “They might have been a little less nervous at the start of the tournament.

“We came here and played North Suburban, Anoka-Hennepin and Park Center, three really good teams. For us to beat all three says something about these kids and the way they played.”

The Blazing Cats’ three state opponents were a combined 27-3 entering the tournament.

Brayan Estrada Martinez scored four goals in the championship game, giving him 11 for the tournament. Michael Burns, Logan Dougherty, Marshae Haley and Manny Desouza had one goal each. Friday had 19 saves, making a variety of scrambling stops and keeping Park Center off the scoreboard until the Blazing Cats had a six-goal lead.

Dougherty and Estrada Martinez had two goals each in Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville’s 5-2 victory over Anoka-Hennepin in the semifinals Saturday. Burns scored once.

The Blazing Cats beat North Suburban 12-3 in the opening round behind six goals from Dougherty and five from Estrada Martinez. Burns also scored for Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville.

Friday, Estrada Martinez and Burns were named to the all-tournament team.

The Blazing Cats’ championship also helped them put memories of the 2012 state adapted soccer tournament farther in the past. Last year they went into the state tournament unbeaten and as the top seed from the South Division. Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville lost in the semifinals and went on to finish third.

Tatge has been a coach with the Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville adapted sports cooperative since it started eight years ago. Previously, the schools from those communities were part of the Dakota United program.

It’s becoming easier to recruit students to the program, but there’s still work to do, he said.

“I’d still like to have more numbers,” he said. “I’d like to have a (junior varsity) and two teams of 13-14 players.

“We’ll have a lot of spots to fill next year. We lose a lot of seniors. We’ll lose Stephen, and we’ll also lose Brayan Estrada Martinez, who’s one of the top offensive players I’ve ever seen in this sport. Those are two huge pieces, and who knows who will fill them next year. For now, we’ll savor what we’ve accomplished.”

No one can deny the Blazing Cats have accomplished a lot.

“I can say I was a state champion in two sports,” Friday said. “That means a lot to me.”

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