Pulaski punches first trip to state since 2014
By Rich Palzewic
PULASKI – For the first time since the 2014 season, the Pulaski boys’ soccer team is heading to the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 2 state tournament.
After a rocky start that saw No. 5-seeded Tomah almost score in the first 15 seconds of the game, the No. 1-seeded Red Raiders settled down from there en route to a 1-0 sectional final victory on Saturday at Pulaski High School.
The state tournament is Nov. 3-5, at KOHLER Engines Stadium at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee.
The Red Raiders will play their semifinal match Thursday against a yet-to-be-determined opponent.
If Pulaski (18-4-2) wins its semifinal match, it will play Saturday at 11 a.m. for a state title.
Against the Timberwolves, Pulaski’s Ben Uelmen tallied in the 28th minute for the contest’s only goal.
“It was a great team win. I’m proud of my team for fighting for a full 80 minutes,” Uelmen said. “As soon as I got the goal, I figured we could play some defense, hold back and keep control of the game.”
Uelmen said his goal was a great team effort.
“The ball came out to me, and I was going to lace it,” he said. “I had a lot of pressure, and guys were coming at me. I stuck out my leg and used my in-step, and it was a good strike. The goalie got a hand on it, but it went in.”
Moments before Uelmen’s goal, Pulaski’s Ryan Drafz blasted a shot near the right front side of the net, but Tomah goalie Trevin Johnson made a strong save to keep the game scoreless — temporarily.
The Red Raiders had a chance to go 2-0 in the 31st minute after a penalty in the box resulted in a penalty kick, but Austin Decker’s attempt went wide left.
“In games like this, it’s hard not to watch the clock,” Pulaski head coach Jeff Schneider said. “We’ve been here before, and this team has lots of playoff experience. We’ve had a few games this season where it came down to the wire, so you have to trust the players, give them a few instructions and let them go. I may look calm and cool, but my heart was beating.”
Tomah took the opening ball on the attack upfield quickly and got a great shot seconds into the game, but the ball was eventually cleared to keep the game scoreless.
“We’ve been here before as the No. 1 seed, so we carry that into games,” Schneider said. “I think sometimes the guys get a little nervous — that happened today. Tomah is a great team — I was impressed with them. They didn’t play like a No. 5 seed. We were able to weather that slow start and play better from there.”
Schneider said once teams get to Milwaukee for the state tournament, anyone can win.
“That’s most of the battle — getting there,” he said. “Everyone deserves to be there, and we’re looking forward to the opportunity.”
Before the season, Schneider, his staff and the players felt they had a good chance to get to state.
“We were in the sectional final last year but fell short,” he said. “It’s super hard to get playoff wins, so when you get this opportunity two years in a row, I’m glad we took advantage of it. I’m proud they got there and got the job done. Personally, I haven’t been to the state tournament, so I’m happy for the school and community.”