Story by Steve Hill
Sept. 1, 2016
Stevens Point — If the SPASH Panthers’ 3-2 victory over Wausau West Tuesday were a movie, there wouldn’t be enough space on its poster for the adjectives to describe it.
Thrilling, heartbreaking, wild, action-packed, gutsy … and then there was the second half.
The short-handed Warriors (1-3, 0-2 Wisconsin Valley Conference) gave SPASH (4-0, 2-0) everything it could handle and more, taking a 2-1 lead when a man down and holding their advantage until the last 10 minutes — when a pair of wacky exchanges in the goal mouth gave the Panthers the scores they needed to win.
The last one stopped the clock at the 44:58 mark of the 45-minute second half. It left SPASH delirious and the Warriors devastated.
Senior midfielder and SPASH captain Joey Dorgan rushed to get off a corner kick as the final seconds ticked away, pushing the ball in just quickly enough for it to get lost in a scrum at the goal — one from which senior defender Phil Trzebiatowski emerged with the game-winning tap-in but couldn’t particularly explain.
“I don’t know,” he said when asked what happened on the goal. “It was one of our set pieces. We’ve been practicing it since the first day, and coach told me to go up.
“The ball was actually short … it landed short of me, I saw it, and I just tapped it into the back of the net.”
It was one of those games that probably left even the home crowd feeling a little badly for the visiting Warriors.
“It was a tough game … I think we played very well as a team,” said Paul Stuebs, West head coach. “It’s always tough losing, especially against Point … the guys have continually talked about the rivalry.
“It’s a tough loss … but I’m very proud of these guys.”
It was pride hard earned and well deserved. The Warriors lived up to their name, fighting back from a 1-0 deficit late in the first half to tie the score with just more than a minute left.
Dorgan’s left-side corner kick for the Panthers in the 42nd minute had found senior defender McKenon Diekroeger at the far post. Diekroeger headed the ball into the middle. and sophomore defender Brendan Leahy finished the effort to make it 1-0, apparently giving SPASH a halftime lead.
But West quickly got its own corner kick, with a low liner finding its way into a crowd in the box, where senior forward Cullen Stangle gathered it in and fired the equalizer.
Early in the second half, Stangle followed up by giving the Warriors an improbable lead. When senior defender Logan Morice was sent off just four minutes into the second half with a second yellow card on a hard tackle too far off the ball, West appeared to be in trouble.
But it was a SPASH foul that almost made the difference, as a knockdown just outside the penalty area in the 13th minute of the second half gave the Warriors a free kick from close range.
Shooting from just outside the right post near the area, Stangel curled a beautiful effort up and around the left side of the SPASH wall and just past the outstretched right hand of leaping goalie Matt Altmann, making it 2-1.
That lead held up for another 20 minutes under a remarkable and valiant defensive effort by West.
But another Dorgan corner kick into the area bounced back out to him, and he followed with a low liner into the box that senior midfielder Jarett Jones was able to suss out for a quick shot that tied the score at the 79:57 mark.
Even short-handed, the Warriors were able to put together a number of threatening runs in a game whose pace could best be described as frantic.
That didn’t necessarily please SPASH coach Mark Peel, who despite his rare mood of post-game excitement found a few concerns. Chief among them were unfinished opportunities when SPASH appeared to earn a number of good ones late in the first half.
“It wasn’t pretty. I wasn’t happy,” Peel said. “I hate leaving teams to hang around, because it usually comes back to bite you.”
He called West’s effort “brilliant” and praised the Warriors’ organization.
Both he and Stuebs, as well as players, said the game was more physical than many, but clean and simply hard-fought.
SPASH finished with 19 shots, 7 corner kicks and 8 fouls, while Altmann had 2 saves. West had 5 shots, 2 corners and 9 fouls, with goalie Pranav Srivastava adding 6 saves.
Dorgan said, “We never thought we were going to lose. We didn’t play great … a lot of sloppy play in the midfield we can definitely improve on, but we worked hard.
“Not necessarily that we outworked them, but we put it all out on the field.”
Of West, he said, “Nothing but respect for those guys.”