The Duluth Denfeld boys soccer team’s revenge tour continued Monday night at Public Schools Stadium.
The eighth-seeded Hunters, buoyed by two Xavier Decker goals, defeated fifth-seeded Grand Rapids 5-0 in a Section 7A semifinal.
Simon Davidson scored the opening goal for the Hunters (9-4-1) in a game that was moved from Grand Rapids’ ice-covered field to Denfeld’s home field earlier in the day.
The Hunters lost 3-2 to Grand Rapids in the next-to-last regular-season game, part of a disappointing 1-3-1 finish that included a shocking 11-0 loss to Cloquet-Esko-Carlton and a 1-1 tie against Hermantown after earlier beating the Hawks 8-0.
But the playoffs have been a different matter.
Denfeld returned to avenge its CEC disaster with a 1-0 quarterfinal win on the road — a Miracle on Grass if there ever was one — and then took it a step further by topping the Thunderhawks (10-4).
Now the Hunters can avenge their section final loss of a year ago, though against a different team. Second-seeded Princeton (12-1-1) beat PACT 1-0 in the other semifinal and will host the final Wednesday night, weather permitting.
“We’re playing more like a team,” said Decker, who also assisted on the final goal. “Before, the team wasn’t getting along as well.”
That was the byproduct of the devastating double-digit loss to CEC, where the Hunters played like a junior varsity team.
“Losing for sure does that,” Hunters coach Scott Anderson said. “The big loss at Cloquet really shook them. It took getting some confidence to get back (to the team’s earlier level).”
Davidson, a junior, has helped give them confidence. He continued a hot streak with the opening goal, his third of the playoffs and eighth of the season, in the eighth minute as he converted down the right wing after receiving an entry pass from Keegan Chastey.
Decker, a senior forward, made it 2-0 in the 29th minute when his well-placed shot from the left wing slid under goalkeeper Chris Pederson at the near post.
“We scored in the first 10 minutes … and things weren’t falling for them and they were falling for us,” Anderson said. “When we decided to control the game, we really did.”
Decker shocked the Thunderhawks by notching his 11th goal of the season in the opening minute of the second half.
Joe Ecklund and Chastey added goals a minute apart to secure the win and keep the party rolling for Denfeld.
Duluth Marshall 1, St. Francis 0
Baamlak Haugen had a couple excellent opportunities to break a scoreless tie in the first half of the Section 7A semifinals at PSS, but put her breakaway chances wide each time.
The Hilltoppers senior forward thought about those misses — ever so briefly — when presented with a third chance on a Maren Friday through ball at the 65-minute mark.
This time she didn’t miss.
“I had a little flashback,” Haugen said. “On the first couple of times, I tried guessing where the goalie was going to go. (On the goal) I took an extra touch and waited for her to dive and kicked it in at the right time.”
Haugen’s 11th goal of the season was all second-seeded Marshall (13-1) needed to defeat the third-seeded Saints (10-2-2) and earn a berth in the section final.
When that game will be played is anyone’s guess. Monday’s game was moved up a day after forecasts predicted several inches of snow to hit the Northland on Tuesday. The final is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday but due to an impending snowfall could be played anywhere between Wednesday and Saturday, according to Duluth Denfeld activities director and tournament director Tom Pearson.
“It all depends on Mother Nature,” Marshall coach Nic Bacigalupo said.
There were snow flurries during the game but that didn’t slow down the speedy Haugen, a Minnesota Duluth recruit who enjoyed hearing the late word that the game would be played on the artificial turf at PSS.
“My eyes lit up a little bit,” she said. “I like to play at a faster speed. Our (grass) field (at Marshall) isn’t that fast because we don’t have turf, so I was excited to come and play here today.”
Bacigalupo knew that would be to his team’s advantage.
“She possesses the quick speed and the full speed. She has the burst and the full 100-yard speed,” the coach said.