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WALES — If mistakes truly are the best opportunities for learning, the Madison West boys soccer team learned a valuable lesson the previous time it faced Middleton, allowing a pair of second-half goals in a 2-1 loss.

So when senior forward Robert Cooper scored with just seconds remaining in the first half of Saturday night’s sectional final against Middleton at Kettle Moraine High School, the halftime message was simple: Don’t let up and don’t make the same mistake twice.

The Regents heeded the lesson and are headed to the WIAA Division 1 state tournament thanks to a 1-0 victory over their Big Eight Conference rivals.

“Middleton is a fantastic program,” first-year West coach Drew Kornish said. “Year in and year out, they’re in this situation. It feels good to beat a perennial power like that. We knew we’d have to get these guys eventually in this tournament. Turned out it was tonight and the guys stepped up in a big way.”

After a tightly contested and even first 44 minutes, Cooper provided a boost, grazing a ball off the fingers of Ben Scher in 45th minute, sending West into halftime with the lead.

“We’re thinking we’re heading into the half, 0-0, and that we’ve got work to do,” Cooper said. “But instead, we got the momentum so we could keep attacking. We got in (at halftime), coach told us we’d do the exact same thing; we’d stay on the attack and not let them attack us.”

West (14-4-1) didn’t get many chances to add on in the second half, thanks to a tough Middleton defense. But the Regents’ own defensive group was even more impressive, shutting out Derek Waleffe, who had scored 30 goals in 20 regular-season matches and 12 more in the Cardinals’ first three playoff games.

“They were very disciplined,” Waleffe said. “They had a guy on our backs every time we had the ball.”

He hadn’t been held without a goal since Sept. 24 of last season, when the Cardinals fell 5-0 at Eau Claire Memorial, snapping a 25-match scoring streak. Over his past 12 matches, he’d only been held to one goal twice.

“Very few teams have kept this team off the board and to keep Derick off the board is a feat in and of itself,” Middleton coach Ben Kollasch said. “Multi-goal games are his norm so more power to them. I don’t think they did anything special, they just defended really well and the bounces went their way.

“Maybe that means the bounces went our way the first time around.”

Middleton (14-5-4) sought a return trip to state after falling in the semifinals last season.

Senior defender Alex Yin drew the shadow assignment and lived up to the term, staying step-for-step with Waleffe the entire evening.

“Alex Yin had him the whole game,” Cooper sad. “He locked him down, he didn’t let him get easy touches on the ball. Derrick’s a hell of a player but Alex shut him down.”

West returns to the state tournament for the third time in five seasons, but the for the fist time since 2015. The Regents have made 14 trips to state in their history and are trying to win the title for the first time since 1988.

“It’s unreal. Halfway through the season, Coach asked us what our goals were and all of us said ‘We want to go to Uihlien (Soccer Park in Milwaukee, site of the state tournament),’ ” Cooper said. “It was a rough patch for us at the time but then, about six games ago, we started to pick up and catch fire. We rode that wave all the way here.”

Madison West 1 0 — 1

Middleton 0 0 — 0

First half: MW — Cooper, 44:57.

Saves: MW (Alvarado) 2; M (Scher) 7. Shots: MW 12; M 4. Shots on goal: MW 8, M 2.