McFarland edges Evansville for RVC soccer title
EVANSVILLE--As the No. 3 seed in the Rock Valley Conference boys soccer tournament, McFarland spent this week on the road.
The Spartans now have a couple trips to remember.
Three nights after winning at Big Foot/Williams Bay, senior midfielder Caleb Blair scored twice in less than a five-minute span in the first half Thursday at Evansville. McFarland held off their top-seeded hosts 2-1 to win the RVC championship.
“It was a heckuva game, and they put us against the ropes,” Blair said after he and his teammates held on despite playing nearly 30 minutes down one player due to a red card. “Hopefully this has good implications for us leading into the playoffs. It's obviously always one of our goals to win conference, and I'm happy we eeked it out.”
McFarland, including the tournament, finished 6-1-1 in RVC play. Evansville, ranked No. 8 in the Division 3 state coaches poll, finished 5-1-2. The teams played to a 3-3 draw in their first meeting.
The Spartans clearly came out with more energy in the rematch Thursday, but they didn't have a goal to show for it after 20 minutes. Blue Devils coach Kendall Buttchen said he thought his team had stemmed the tide.
But Evansville was whistled for a hand ball in the scoring box in the 27th minute, and Blair calmly stepped up and put the penalty kick into the back of the net.
Four and a half minutes later, the whistle blew again, this time giving McFarland a long-range free kick. Senior defender Reid Ballentine lofted the ball to the top of the box, where Blair collected it turned and pounded in another goal to make it 2-0.
“I thought we settled down midway through the half, but the PK changed things a little bit and they got their second goal right away,” Buttchen said. “McFarland is a great team, and Caleb Blair is a great player. He put them on his back tonight and carried them to a conference championship.”
After a fairly even start to the second half, momentum shifted Evansville's direction in the 62nd minute when a McFarland player picked up his second yellow card of the match and was sent off.
The Blue Devils cut their deficit in half when freshman standout Jackson Stencel delivered a highlight-reel goal. He took a crack from in front of the Evansville bench that curled high and to the left, caromed off the crossbar, down and into the goal at 73:04.
“That's one of the best goals I've ever seen, and I thought that was our ticket right there. I thought we could ride that,” Buttchen said. “We still had time left.”
The Blue Devils kept the pressure on in the final 15 minutes but couldn't break through again. Justin Quist made nine saves to preserve the McFarland victory.
Now the teams await seeding meetings this weekend ahead of the start of the WIAA tournament run that begins Tuesday.
“We've got to learn from our mistakes and quick bounce back,” Buttchen said. “We'll be ready.”
McFARLAND 2, EVANSVILLE 1
McFarland 2 0—2
Evansville 0 1—1
M—Caleb Blair (PK), 26:52. M—Blair (Reid Ballentine), 31:15.
E—Jackson Stencel, 73:04.
Saves—Justin Quist (M) 9, Alex Wille (E) 6.