Not meaning to sound arrogant or dismissive of the very deep sectionals that his team has played in, Brookfield East boys soccer coach Herbie Dundun still said the WIAA State Tournament berths the Spartans earned in 2010 and 2011 were "almost givens".
Not so this year. East had huge graduation losses, and furthermore, it lost five more potential starters to the newly-founded soccer academy in the area.
So on Saturday night at Central, after the Spartans earned their third state trip in a row to Uihlein Park with a heartstopping 3-2 overtime shootout WIAA sectional final victory over a persistent Whitefish Bay team, a relieved Dundun said this state slot feels much different than the others.
"We were fishing here and there, trying to put the pieces together," he said. "The chemistry was always something a little different, something we were always working on."
"It was very much on the edge at times. It's very satisfying to have done this, but it feels very patched together. We had to fill the gaps as we went along."
As a result, the Spartans (14-7-3) will take on Kimberly in a 5 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25 WIAA D1 State quarterfinal game at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee.
For the "patched-together" East players, this is a dream come true, nothing that feels like a given at all.
"It's an unbelievable feeling, it's like you're on top of the world," said sophomore goalie Drew Johnson, who made a critical stop of Bay's third penalty kick and who also saved the game for East with just seconds to go in the first overtime session, when he tipped a spectacular point blank bicycle kick shot by the Blue Dukes Jack Menard just over the top of the crossbar.
"It's our third trip in a row, but my first and I wouldn't want to go with any other team," he added.
"It takes on a whole new meaning being in my final year," said senior forward and tri-captain John Orgovan, who gave East it's first lead at 1-0 in the 28th minute off a close-in rebound of a shot by teammate Trenton Daniels that had richocheted off the left post.
"You don't appreciate it as much as an underclassman, but our team struggled this year. We really had to struggle to maintain our mental strength and morale at times this season. It was kind of strange. We were sort of on and off (with the way we played this fall)."
And that trend continued at the end of regulation. In a game dominated by fouls and great set piece offense, a desperate Bay team pressed hard in the final five minutes of regulation, trailing 2-1.
The Blue Dukes (14-5-3) earned a couple of corner kicks in that time but could make nothing of them, but after an East clear they got the ball back and senior defender TJ Schmid made a great long feed ahead to a racing senior defender Jake Taylor, who one-touched it perfectly past Johnson for the tieing goal at the 77:56 mark.
It was as if anyone was thinking that they had had enough soccer for the evening after the regulation whistle blew, they should have been listening to one of the linesman who mopped his brow and grabbed a drink just before the start of the first overtime session.
"Who wants to go home now,'" he said. "It's such a great game."
"It was a right fast finish," said Blue Duke coach Andy Lee of Taylor's effort. "I thought that he (Taylor) was very composed on that play."
And Lee had the right to think as he said later, that "we carried forward some confidence after the equalizer".
There was more excitement in the first overtime as East got the first two pretty good tries before the closing dramatics of the Bay bicycle kick.
In the second overtime session, Dundun struggled to maintain his team's focus. "Call out your numbers (your marks)," he shouted to the team as the period started. "This is no time to rest."
East pressed hard, but Bay goalie Alex Witteman made three solid saves to keep the Spartans from the gamewinner and to force the penalty kick shootout.
The Spartans were up 3-2 in the penalty kick phase when Johnson made his critical save. East senior midfielder Ryan Toy, who had given East a 2-0 lead at the 41:45 mark with an assist from Orgovan, then pounded home his shot to make it 4-2.
And when the subsequent Blue Duke player bounced his shot off the side post, the Spartans spilled onto the field to celebrate.
"It was always a tight thing and it could have been our game in overtime," said Lee, whose team "It was unfortunate it came down to penalty kicks."
Prior to his dramatic tiieing goal late in regulation, Taylor had pulled Bay to within 2-1 at the 45:25 mark as he headed in a perfect free kick from the left side courtesy of senior forward Joey Davey.
Exciting elements like that just kept this game a fan favorite throughout the evening.
"There was a lot there if you were a neutral (fan). A good game," said Lee.
With just a little bit more going for the state-bound East side.
"When we got to the overtime, I just told them to focus and to be grateful that we were still in it," said Dundun, "and we learned from our previous experience in the penalty session having lost to Green Bay Preble (that way)."
"Drew (Johnson) did well and we were very grateful for the student support. They have come out every game this season. That was a very good team we played. A very good win."
And nothing to take for granted.
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