Prep boys soccer: Duluth East advances to state final against Stillwater
MINNEAPOLIS -- Duluth East goalkeeper Oliver Hasler often cuts a lonely figure on the soccer field. He's usually the one standing around in his own penalty area without much to do while teammates have all the fun at the other end of the pitch. Bu...
MINNEAPOLIS - Duluth East goalkeeper Oliver Hasler often cuts a lonely figure on the soccer field.
He’s usually the one standing around in his own penalty area without much to do while teammates have all the fun at the other end of the pitch.
But on Wednesday afternoon, Hasler was busy keeping Minnetonka shots out of his net and preserving the Greyhounds’ 2-0 victory in a Class AA high school state tournament semifinal at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“He means the world to our team,” East senior forward Will Francis said. “He does everything behind the scenes and is the greatest goalie you could ask for. In my eyes, he’s the best in the state.”
Francis might be the best striker in the state as well - at least in big games - as his two goals earned top-ranked East (19-0-2) a spot in Friday’s 5:30 p.m. title game against Stillwater Area (18-1-2) back at U.S. Bank Stadium.
It marks the Greyhounds’ first appearance in the championship game. They finished third a year ago after losing 5-1 to Stillwater Area in the semifinals.
“We’re one game away from the state championship, and it feels amazing,” said Francis, who also scored two goals in a 4-2 quarterfinal win over Centennial last week. “Since we were here last year, it helped our confidence a ton. We really thought we could win this game, and we did.”
But they might have lost their first game of the season if not for Hasler, who finished with six saves.
“I’ll stop what I need to stop, but our defense has been great,” Hasler said, crediting those in front of him.
The Skippers (14-3-4), who will play for third place Friday, knew what they were facing since they held East to a scoreless draw Sept. 1. Francis had only one shot on goal in that game.
“There’s lots of talent on the field with No. 11 (All-State senior midfielder Seth Hoffman) and No. 4 (Francis), but if I’m Oliver Hasler’s coach I give him the game ball because he did a great job,” Minnetonka coach Mike Rogers said. “We couldn’t get it past Oliver; he’s a great ’keeper.”
Hasler made his first save at the 10-minute mark on an Alejandro Ferrer-Lugo shot and the Skippers kept up the early pressure.
“We thought we were the better team out there, but the scoreboard was showing something different. That’s the way the game is,” Rogers said. “Honestly, I thought we were going to unload on Duluth East and start pouring goals in. It didn’t happen that way, and that may have contributed to a little letdown in our midfield and contributed to that first goal.”
East struck first at 15:56 when Francis, who stayed in Duluth to complete his senior season after his family moved to Union, Ky., took a pass from Hoffman at the top of the 18-yard penalty area and slotted home a left-footed shot to the left edge of the goal before Minnetonka goalie Luca Vereecken could reach it.
Less than 10 minutes later, Francis pounced on a loose ball out front after Vereecken collided with East senior forward Joey Sertich to extend the striker’s school record to 29 goals this season.
“Will is a player who you count on as a coach to take care of business when you need it,” East first-year coach Corey Bachand said. “In the big game, he’s going to put the ball away when he has an opportunity, and he did that.”
Francis was hyped to play in front of 10 family members, including his parents and brothers, who have lived in the suburban Cincinnati area since the end of the 2018 school year after Chris Francis took a job as chief operating officer for the Greater Cincinnati YMCA. Francis has lived with the family of teammates Sean and Ryan Brueninghaus ever since.
“I knew that I had to score goals in order for us to win this game and everyone behind me had to play their game for us to win,” Francis said. “I just tried to get everyone to get on top of their game beforehand and to play our game.”
He didn’t need to remind Hasler, who made a key save off an Andres Rivas header with 5:00 left in the first half and a couple more in the late going to maintain the two-goal advantage and start the celebration.
Duluth East 2-0-2First half - 1. Will Francis (Seth Hoffman), 16th minute; 2. Francis (Joey Sertich), 26th.
Second half - No scoring.
Saves - Luca Vereecken, M, 1; Oliver Hasler, DE, 6.