The No. 10 seeded Viking team traveled to Hibbing to square off against the No. 7 seed Bluejackets last Thursday.
“When play started, it was 40 degrees outside with a 20 mph wind,” said coach Paul Pignato. “Under these challenging conditions, the team maintained even with the Bluejackets for most of the first half until a mis-cleared ball found its way onto a bluejacket foot and was pounded into the back of the net. The Vikings found themselves down 0 to 1 at the half.
“The second half started with the wind at the Vikings back and a determined team on the field,” the coach added. “The play ebbed and flowed both directions until the Hibbing goalie was called for a foul against Joe Prell in the box. Captain Levi Kolke’s number was called to take the penalty kick. As the team stood ready, Levi’s shot was clean and true, tying the score 1-1. The Vikings’ superb defensive play continued and held the Bluejackets off the scoreboard.
Pignato continued, “Luke Zschokke was given the assignment to shadow Hibbing’s top scorer and held him to no shots in the game. Kaleb Larsen played his best game of the year, frequently pressing the play in the transition zone to gather the ball and send it back into the attack. Eric Chilstrom started in net and kept the game close, with Brandon Kratzke slamming the door in the second half, not allowing a single goal on multiple shots. With eight minutes to play, Tyler Gudmundsen sent a ball through to Joe Prell who pressed the Hibbing goalie into a mis-play. Joe gathered the ball and delivered a shot off the near post that slowly careened into the net for the go ahead goal. The Vikings then held on for a frantic final eight minutes with the clock ticking down to post a well deserved (2-1) win in sectionals.”
The season ended for the Vikings when the boys traveled to Duluth to face the No. 2 seeded Hunters in the quarterfinals last Saturday.
“We knew that this was going to be a tough game,” said senior captain Jon Blomquist. “Duluth has a very good shot at going to state. We played tough the entire first half, but with five minutes left, Duluth scored to take a 1-0 lead. The second half was just as much of a battle, but they put in a second goal with around 10 minutes left. We knew that scoring two goals with 10 minutes left was going to be almost impossible, but we kept on fighting. All 11 seniors were out on the field for us, and with 10 seconds left in the game, Logan Klatt went on a breakaway and put our first goal past the Denfeld keeper. We all ran to him and cheered, because we knew that this was going to be the last time we would ever celebrate a goal together.
Added Blomquist, “These last two games gave us both sides of a playoff match. In the first, we came back to upset a very good team, and celebrated as we won. To struggle through the entire season, but then come out and play such a great game was the best feeling in the world. On the other end of the spectrum, losing against Duluth was heartbreaking. We played a great game, but this time, we were on the other end of the 2-1 score. Kaleb Larson was spectacular during the playoffs, playing solid defense in both games. Tyler Gudmundson and Eric Chilstrom played great on the outsides of the midfield. Brandon Kratzke was amazing in goal, saving countless shots. Every single person played their heart out, and because of that, I couldn’t be any more proud of the team I was lucky enough to be a part of.”
Coach Pignato recognized seniors Jon Blomquist, Eric Chilstrom, Tyler Gudmundson, Kaleb Larson, Issac Lewis, Logan Klatt, Levi Kolke, Brandon Kratzke, Joe Prell, Ryan Zentner and Luke Zschokke for their performances and careers as North Branch soccer players.
“And congratulations to the North Branch boys soccer team as a whole on a season of positive change and improvement,” he noted.
The North Branch boys soccer team ended its season with a 0-10-0 North Suburban Conference and 3-13-1 overall record.