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Better late than never attitude lifts Badger



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October 06, 2010 | 08:37 AM
Last Thursday, the Badger boys soccer team pulled off the most improbable comeback of its season.

Down 1-0 in the second half of the championship game of the Southern Lakes Conference tournament against Elkhorn at the Badger Soccer Field, time was ticking down, with only three minutes left in the game.

Crunch time is when great players shine, and Badger senior forward Matric Kotula proved he is just that with his clutch performance. In the 77th minute, Kotula rebounded a deflection off a corner kick, booted it with his left foot and found the right corner of the goal to tie the game.

Then, two minutes later, senior Martin Valadez advanced the ball about 40 yards downfield to Kotula, who had one-on-one coverage 15 yards from the Elkhorn goal.

The next move, though difficult, seemed routine for the reigning SLC player of the year.

He dribbled to his right, did a complete turn and swooped a line-drive kick with his left foot, which just beat the outstretched arm of Elkhorn's goalie.

The Elks threatened to score in Badger territory in the final minute, but sophomore Kyle Janikowski cleared the ball out of trouble as time expired, preserving the gritty triumph.

Badger finished the season 16-4-3 and a perfect 9-0 in conference.

It was Badger's fifth straight SLC title and eighth overall.

In the conference tournament semifinals, Badger shut out Burlington, 3-0. Coach Ross Fowler said it was a great win.

"It was a pretty exciting game," he said. "There was a big crowd, and there was a lot riding on the game. Being co-champs with Elkhorn would've hurt our regional seeding. I thought we had chances to score the whole game, but we didn't break through until the end. Once Elkhorn scored, they packed it in on defense. It was tough to find space to score."

Fowler said Kotula's use of his left foot is something he has really worked on.

"The second goal was a tough shot," Fowler said. "I have been stressing to Matric to use his left foot. He often had three guys collapsing on him. But when he got space, he was solid."

For the first goal, Badger took a big risk with goalie Brendan Gruenwald-Schmitz up at the net for the corner kick. An empty net for Badger could've meant an easy goal for Elkhorn, but Fowler said it was necessary.

"It was too big of a deal," he said. "We needed all of our guys to create confusion for the goalie. Somehow, Kotula found the back of the net."

Fowler said seven of the nine SLC teams are in Badger's sectional, which bodes well for the Badgers.

The tournament, which begins Tuesday with a home game, will feature Kenosha Bradford and Tremper, two of the state's top 10 teams in Division 1 according to the Wisconsin Soccer Coaches Association poll.

Badger will wrap up the regular season Thursday at Janesville Craig, another possible regional opponent.

"I've been telling the kids they need to improve their communication with each other on the field," Fowler said. "But the skill is there for us to reach the sectional finals at least."

As for the challenging Kenosha teams, Fowler hopes his kids step up if they get that far.

"In soccer, anybody can win on any night," he said. "We would have to play our best games of the year to beat both teams. The kids have stepped up to challenges all year, so I'm confident in our chances."

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