By Murray Gleffe
GREEN BAY – It doesn’t matter whether you’re a long shot or a top seed.
The No. 8-seeded De Pere boys’ soccer team is heading to the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 1 State Tournament after defeating No. 2 Green Bay Preble 3-2 Oct. 30 in a sectional final game at Green Bay East High School.
“We started hot from the get-go, and then let the one in before half,” De Pere Goalie Evan Engel said. “I told the boys in our meeting one allowed goal doesn’t define us. We were able to stick to the process and finish with a huge win. We’re going to continue to enjoy the role of being underdogs.”
The Redbirds qualified for state during the alternate 2020-21 fall season conducted this past spring where they were state finalists.
De Pere, which received the No. 4 seed at this season’s state tournament, plays No. 1 Marquette University in the semifinals Thursday, Nov. 4, at Kohler Engines Stadium at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee at 11 a.m.
If the Redbirds win, they’d face the winner of No. 2 Verona/No. 3 Hudson for the state title Saturday, Nov. 6, at 11 a.m.
The senior-laden Hornets dominated the time of possession and shots on goal in the first 15 minutes of the contest.
However, every shot in the early going was turned away by the quick hands of Engel.
“From the start of the season to where we are now, we’re lucky to have (Engel),” De Pere Head Coach Martin Valenzuela said. “I can’t talk about him enough on how important he has been. In this game, he made save-upon-save for 80 minutes.”
A few minutes later, the Redbirds (13-7-2 overall) built some momentum.
In the 20th minute, Kevin Ramirez sent a corner kick into Jacob Calewarts, who put the ball in the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.
Six minutes later, De Pere had another corner kick opportunity.
This time, James Dorchester was the recipient of a loose ball in front of the net.
He stuffed home the easy goal to give the Redbirds a two-goal advantage.
The Hornets (17-1-4) didn’t go away quietly, as they tallied their first goal with about a minute remaining until halftime.
Brandon Ramirez made a move on a De Pere defender and sent a cross to Cesar Cortez, who blasted the goal home from 23 yards out to cut the lead to 2-1.
“It was a change of momentum for them when they scored the goal before the half,” Valenzuela said. “My boys were still confident we could control the game the rest of the way.”
To open the second half, Preble’s defenders got caught cheating up.
Dorchester took the ball from midfield and went uncontested for a score to put the Redbirds up 3-1 with 35 minutes remaining in the game.
“We capitalized on the opportunities we received tonight,” Valenzuela said. “We did it against Bay Port (in the regional final) and again this afternoon.”
Down the stretch, the Hornets’ offense clicked into high gear.
With five minutes remaining, Oscar Hernandez scored on a ball that deflected off a De Pere defender to make the score 3-2.
With less than a minute remaining, Preble couldn’t tie the game as Engel came up with two big saves.
“Every single game, the expectation is to earn a result,” Valenzuela said. “Be proud of the way we work and enjoy the process along the way. We’ll be ready to go come Thursday.”
De Pere is making its ninth overall trip to the state tournament.
“We aren’t satisfied with winning today,” Engel said. “The job is not done. We’re going to go in with the mentality we can win both games and come away with a state championship.”