By Steve Hill
Oct. 9, 2018
Weston — The Wisconsin Valley Conference may have had some troublesome weather this year, but until Tuesday night, it hadn’t experienced a storm like the one brought by Ricky Perez, Ethan Kane, and their SPASH teammates.
On a night that began with more than half of the WVC still harboring title hopes, the Panthers thundered their way into first past previous league leader D.C. Everest with a 7-0 victory. In doing so, they made a statement: get out of our way.
“That was fun to see,” said senior forward Yia Yang, whose assist on a crucial goal early in the game staked the Panthers to a 2-0 lead. “We’re actually connecting now as a team. Earlier in the season we’d just play offense or defense, but now both are coming together, which is good.”
Three goals from Perez, two from Kane, and a dominant performance from start to finish — often in cold, driving rain — left no doubt that the Panthers are now the team to beat.
At 6-0-4 with 22 points in the WVC standings, the Panthers have two games remaining and a two-point lead on Everest (5-1-5 in league play and 5-7-6 overall). Although Everest, Marshfield and Wausau West all remain in contention, SPASH is now the only team that needs no help to finish on top.
Both the weather and SPASH set the tone for the game early. The precipitation started coming down and umbrellas out by the time of the national anthem, and the teams were already wet when, in the third minute, Blake Milkowski crossed a pass from the right side for Kane on the left. Kane worked toward the outside of the scoring area, turned back in past a pair of defenders, and boomed a shot into the far corner to make it 1-0.
At the start of the 19th minute, thunder and lighting resulted in a mandatory half-hour delay and clearing of the field and bleachers. The danger passed and the rain dribbled almost to a stop, limiting the delay to the minimum.
But almost as soon as the game restarted, so did the rain, and it would fall steadily and often heavily for the remainder of the game, making it a chilly, completely soaked affair. The misery was limited to one side, however, as the rest of the first half passed with the Panthers dominating in possession and position — and it didn’t take long for the Panthers to show that anything the rain could do, they could do better.
In the 22nd minute, Kane blasted another shot from that side and Everest goalie Ty Tretter punched the ball out of bounds, resulting in a corner kick. Yang, a senior, then took over with a perfectly placed assist to junior Isaac Williams.
“Before the play happened, the coaches told me to just spot for Blake Milkowski or Isaac, so I went for the back post and that’s what I did,” Yang said. “Isaac just headed it in.”
After the halftime break, SPASH really kicked it into gear. In the 51st, the nimble-footed Perez, looking as if he was born to play on a wet field, zigged and zagged his way past several defenders into the scoring area, then sent an outlet pass to Kane on the right. Kane again turned back in, maneuvered past another defender, and slapped a perfect shot between Tretter and the near post to make it 3-0.
In the 54th, Perez made it 4-0 after Kane returned the favor. From the same side, he pushed a pass to Perez in front of the left post, and the Panther senior maneuvered almost to the right post, then turned and ripped a perfect shot back to the right and past Tretter into the far post.
The rain slowed again for almost 15 minutes, but by the final 10 minutes became as heavy as it would be all night — as was the SPASH offensive attack.
In the 86th, SPASH was awarded a free kick just outside the penalty area, and Perez slotted it hard, fast and perfect past the wall and into the right corner to make it 5-0.
Instead of turning things down, the Panthers ratcheted them up. In the 89th minute, junior Brendan Chang took a long pass from past midfield and powered his way straight down the middle and then cut left, blowing past a pair of defenders and taking on substitute goalie Matt Schafer one-on-one, sending it again into the right-hand corner to make it 6-0.
“We knew that we had to continue the pressure until the game was done,” SPASH coach Derek Bell said. “We needed to continue to play the way we wanted to play.”
In the 90th, Perez added one final goal, crossing from the right-hand side to the left to end the scoring at 7-0.
“We were man-marking Perez in the first half, but then we switched , ” Everest head coach Josh Roloff said. “And when we switched off of him, he had three goals. It just goes to show that you’ve got to know where he’s at.”
The onslaught left Roloff disappointed, but ready to focus on Thursday’s season finale.
“Short-term memory — that’s my quick thought,” Roloff said. “We’ve got to move on. We’re got Rapids and we’ve got to do our best.”
A win Thursday could put the Evergreens at 23 points, which could still be enough for first place outright if SPASH loses both its remaining games. The Panthers take on sixth-place Wausau East on the road on Thursday and fourth-place Wausau West on Saturday.
Everest and SPASH could also tie if SPASH loses one and ties the second. Additionally, both could also end up tied with Marshfield and West if the latter two win out (including West over SPASH) and SPASH ties East.
There are other possible scenarios, but SPASH’s recent play, including three consecutive shutouts by a combined 14-0 score, makes the Panthers a prohibitive favorite.
Bell knows that the remaining schedule also offers plenty of space to stumble, but for a few minutes Tuesday, he allowed himself to be impressed with his team’s play.
“They’re seasoned veterans with a lot of game time,” Bell said, “and they’re figuring out how to play pretty complex soccer, which is beautiful.”
Corrected from an earlier version to show sequence of goals relative to the suspension of play.