The last time these two teams met, it was a close game.
That was last month, when Sheboygan North’s boys soccer team held on for a tight 1-0 win over cross-town rival Sheboygan South in the teams’ only regular season faceoff.
Through nearly 30 minutes of back-and-forth-but-rarely-decisive action on Tuesday, it looked like the city’s two Division 1 rivals would have to grind through another gritty contest. But a few offensive breakthroughs late in the opening half allowed North to send up a flurry of goals and take what eventually turned into a 3-0 postseason-opening win, sending South home for the year and propelling the Raiders to the regional finals for the fourth straight season.
“I think we just started finding our stride there, and I think we started breaking ’em down,” North coach Tim Eirich said of his team’s slew of late first-half goals. “Give South credit, they played very good, they packed their defense in the middle and really wasn’t going to let (North’s leading scorer) Calian (Schrader) free very much.”
North posted a few early shots on goal, but South’s stingy defense packed around the box and generally kept the Raiders — especially Schrader — far from the net. Finally, with about 13 minutes left in the first half, senior forward Austin Campbell sneaked a shot past South’s goalkeeper, putting the Raiders ahead 1-0.
That would have been enough for North, whose defense preserved the shutout the rest of the way. But Campbell’s goal was the spark that ignited a small fire on an otherwise wet and foggy night; minutes later, Logan Strysick netted an improbable goal from nearly 40 yards out. And with just under six minutes left in the period, Schrader secured his goal for the night to give the Raiders a comfortable halftime cushion.
“We practiced that this week of taking the longer shots, and opening up the defense a little,” Eirich said of Strysick’s long goal.
“It was frustrating because of how they packed it in there and how we just couldn’t move a whole lot,” Eirich said, crediting South’s tight-packed defense, which stymied his team’s offense and forced North to try and creep in toward the goal from the sidelines. “But I think once they got the first goal … it broke the camel’s back there.”
South was knocked out in the first round of the playoffs for the fourth straight season. The team advanced to the sectional finals and came within a game of the state tournament in both 2008 and 2009, though, but have faced unfavorable bracket schedules in the years since.
“We had a good group of guys that fought hard all game long,” South coach Mike Heinen said after the game. “(There was) about a six-minute spell where we gave up three goals, and if we could have maybe erased that six minutes it would have been closer — we’d be fighting harder through the end.
“We felt good and we thought if we gave up one goal that we’d just have to make sure not to give up another,” he added. “But it just didn’t go according to plan.”
North has advanced to the second round of the playoffs every year since 2010, but has struggled to get into the sectionals. Last year, the then-seventh-seeded Raiders posted a 5-0 win over West De Pere in the opening round before falling to No. 2 seed Kimberly in the regional finals. A year before that, North posted another first-round shutout — this time a 6-0 win over New London — only to fall to Pulaski in Round 2.
But the team has some greater momentum behind it this time. North cruised through most of its regular season, securing a second-place finish in the Fox River Classic Conference before earning a No. 1 seed in its postseason bracket. That should give the Raiders a favorable schedule, at least until deep into the postseason, and offering the team hope for a more auspicious playoff campaign.
Asked if the added momentum would help his team get further into the playoffs than it’s gotten in recent years, Eirich just said, “I’m hoping so.”
“The kids are really wanting to go as far as we can,” Eirich said. “But we’ll just take it one game at a time from there.”