MILWAUKEE — Last winter, still stung by a loss to Whitefish Bay in the WIAA Division 2 state championship game, the Oregon boys soccer team started plotting out its mission for the 2018 season.
“We came up with tangible and quantitative goals,” senior forward Madison Conduah said Thursday night. “We wanted to get 15 shutouts. We wanted a conference title, since we didn’t do that last year. We wanted to get back to state — and then, win the state title.”
The Panthers already have ticked off three of the items on that difficult checklist. And they’re now in a position to cross off the fourth, final and most important item, thanks to a dominating 3-0 victory over Holmen in a state semifinal at Uihlein Soccer Park.
“It feels different this year,” Panthers coach Chris Mitchell said of his 19-2-2 team’s return to the title game — a 1:30 p.m. Saturday meeting with New Berlin Eisenhower (18-3-1). “We expected this. Last year, we surprised a lot of people.”
This year, everyone knows about the Panthers’ defense. Oregon entered the game with a state single-season record of 15 shutouts, including 14 in its previous 16 contests.
Thursday night produced more of the same: Not only did Holmen (22-2-1) become the Panthers’ 16th shutout, the Vikings didn’t get their first shot until the 49th minute and finished with three. None of the shots were on goal.
That’s right: Panthers goalkeepers Duncan Morgan and Austin Adams did not have to make a save.
On the other end, the Panthers had plenty of scoring chances in the first half but couldn’t cash in, stymied more by physics and gravity than anything Holmen was doing defensively. Girish Russell and Conduah each had solid looks in the 30th and 33rd minutes, respectively, only to watch shots sail just over the crossbar.
In all, the Panthers attempted 21 shots in the first 45 minutes — seven of them on goal — with nothing to show for it.
“We’ve had a handful of games like this, where we’ve created a lot of opportunities to score but haven’t been able to put it on frame,” Mitchell said. “But that’s the way the game goes sometimes. The boys showed a lot of composure.”
The Vikings’ first shot resulted when junior midfielder Quintin Olson, off Holmen’s first corner kick of the night, sailed a shot just right of the goal.
“That could have been a game-changer,” Holmen coach Guy Turner said. “To keep them on their heels, that would have been good for us. It just didn’t happen.”
Instead, the Panthers’ offense finally broke through, scoring two goals in a three-minute span.
Carter Hendrickson struck first, scoring his 10th goal of the season in the 51st minute. Barely two minutes later, Nick Borden pushed one past Holmen goalkeeper Jackson Lutz off a free kick, providing some breathing room.
“Once we got that first goal, everything started to kick in, everyone started to get pumped up,” Hendrickson said. “It led to a lot of great things.”
Collin Bjerke padded the lead in the 68th minute off a feed from Conduah for his 19th goal of the season, making Oregon the only team to score three goals off Holmen in 2018.
“Our goal was not to be impatient,” Mitchell said. “We tweaked just a few minor things to open up the box more in the second half, and they executed well. The boys have been really good at responding to really small things.”
Holmen 0 0 — 0
Oregon 0 3 — 3
Second half: Or — Hendrickson (Bjerke), 50:44; Borden, 52:10; Bjerke (Conduah), 67:54.
Shots — H 3 (Olson 3, Peterson 3, Malone 3); Or 29 (Bjerke 6, Conduah 6, Bennett 6, Borden 3, Russell 3, Kluck 2, Hendrickson 2, Roskos 1). Shots on goal — H 0; Or 10 (Bjerke 2, Hendrickson 2, Conduah 2, Bennett 2, Borden 1, Russell 1). Saves — H 29 (Lutz 29); Or 0 (Morgan 0, Adams 0). Corner kicks — H 1; Or 11. Offside — H 0; Or 0.