It was an early-season boys soccer fixture with a playoff feel Wednesday night at Stierberger Stadium.
In the end, the host Union Wildcats (2-0) edged rival St. Francis Borgia Regional (0-1) on penalty kicks, 4-3 (5-4).
“It didn’t start out the way we wanted it to and we got down early,” Union Head Coach Josh Wideman said. “We’re struggling right now to play good defense. I’m really proud of the boys for coming back from being down 3-1 to find a way to put in two goals.”
Borgia Head Coach Danny Strohmeyer feels there’s a good base for his team.
“There were a lot of positives,” Strohmeyer said. “When we played calm and controlled the ball, we controlled the game. When we started trying to knock it around and just tried knocking it up the field, that’s when it became 50-50 time. We’ll take what we saw there and build on it.”
While the teams are in separate classes, Union’s second game, and Borgia’s first, had all of the pressure, tension and excitement of a postseason contest.
The excitement started in the 21st minute when Borgia goalkeeper Kurt Politte was able to haul in Isaac Boboc’s penalty kick which went off the post.
“Any time a keeper makes a save, he gets confidence,” Strohmeyer said. “If it’s a PK, it’s even more confidence.”
Just as the game looked like it would be scoreless at the break, the teams went on a flurry during the final seven minutes.
With 6:55 left in the half, Grant Russell was in the right place to knock in a rebound for the Knights.
With 3:50 left in the half, Boboc had his shot from the side deflect in off a sliding Borgia defender to tie it.
Borgia retook the lead 46 seconds later when Ethan Mort floated in a long shot between a leaping Cooper Bailey and the crossbar.
It was 2-1 for Borgia at the break.
“It was beautiful,” Strohmeyer said. “We talk about playing the ball to that spot. We always have a fullback, winger or midfielder filling in that spot. That’s something the guys know that you can play that spot and it’s there.”
With 27:57 to go, Borgia added to the lead again. Jake Nowak took the ball down the right side, cut in at the byline and blasted a shot inside the far post. That gave the Knights a 3-1 lead.
“Jake is a classic striker,” Strohmeyer said. “He’s a bulldog. When he gets the ball, he’s going to try to score. Most of the time, he does. It’s a big jump for him this year to move up to the varsity.”
Union chipped back. With 23:20 to play, Ronin Straatmann was in the right place to score off of a rebound.
“It was about midway through the second half where you could see our boys start to play the way I know they can play,” Wideman said. “They started to control the ball, make the simple passes and move off of the ball. I saw that a little bit in the Poplar Bluff game early and it was the opposite tonight. We need to continue to play our game and work the ball.”
Then, with 5:26 to go, Thee Bunyaritlakkhana blasted a long free kick under the crossbar to tie it.
“It was just an amazing free kick from the outside and he bent it in upper 90 at the far post,” Wideman said.
During regulation, Borgia’s Nowak and Union’s Evan Hall and Isaiah Hoelscher earned assists.
The score remained the same through regulation and two overtimes. Near the end of the second overtime, a light standard switched off, but the teams were able to finish out the contest on the other end for penalty kicks.
During the first five penalty kicks, four of the five shooters from each side scored. Union’s first shooter (Boboc) and Borgia’s fourth shooter (Mort) had their attempts saved.
Borgia went first and Aidan Ottens, Noah Simmons, Nowak and Brent Lemon scored.
Union’s scorers in that round were Jack Wagnaar, Andrew Guerra, Bunyaritlakkhana and Hoelscher.
The game ended with the next two shooters. Borgia’s Andrew Dyson just missed outside the left post while Luke Smith scored for Union.
“Borgia had played a lot more games which went to penalty kicks than we did last year,” Wideman said. “I told Bailey to just guess and see what happens. The first three shooters, he was leaving just a little soon. He’s an athlete. He came up with a huge save.”
Bailey made 10 saves in goal for the Wildcats. Politte played in net the whole game for Borgia.
“We’re working for the postseason,” Strohmeyer said. “We’ll take this game, no matter how much it hurts, and learn from it.”
The Wildcats opened their season a day earlier, taking on Poplar Bluff.
Union held off the Mules at Stierberger Stadium, 4-3.
Union took a 3-0 lead in the opening half and it was 3-1 at the intermission. Poplar Bluff came back to make the final seven minutes interesting after cutting the lead to one goal again, but Union held on for the win.
Boboc, who scored Union’s goal in the second half, ended with a goal and an assist.
Bunyaritlakkhana scored Union’s first goal 8:29 into the game. Guerra and Straatmann also scored within the first 21 minutes of the game.
Hall, Hoelscher and Wagnaar added assists.
Bailey made eight saves in goal for the win.
Alex Ketcherside scored twice for Poplar Bluff with Zak Lipsey earning the other goal.
Parker Nagy and Maliek Clinton recorded assists. Justin Moses made eight saves in goal for the Mules.