BEMIDJI – Seth Wall wasn’t necessarily looking to score when he sent his 25-yard shot toward the Sartell net during Tuesday’s Section 8A semifinal boys soccer game at the middle school.
But when the Bemidji attacker heard the ball hit the post he knew that he had at the least forced the Sabres to come up with a play to stop a Lumberjacks’ opportunity.
“I got a good touch off the mistake by the Sartell defender and I just took my chance,” Wall said. “I heard it hit the post and was hoping for the best but I actually wasn’t watching the play.”
What Wall missed was his shot carrying over the traffic, over Sartell keeper Skylar Gardner, off the left post and into the back of the net.
The goal came 25:48 into the first half and gave the Lumberjacks what proved to be an insurmountable 2-0 advantage.
BHS didn’t score again but, as it turned out, the Sabres never did find the scoreboard and Bemidji punched its ticket to Thursday’s section championship game at St. Cloud State with the 2-0 victory.
Tuesday’s win avenged Bemidji’s 1-0 loss at Sartell on Sept. 29. It also gives the Lumberjacks a 13-2-2 record heading into the trip to St. Cloud, where they’ll take on Cathedral. Cathedral beat Hillcrest 1-0 Tuesday.
“I was very excited that the guys played with the energy we had Tuesday,” said BHS coach Rick Toward. “Entering the game they were confident but not cocky. We knew what Sartell was going to bring and the guys were confident that they could pull off a win.”
The game a few weeks ago started at noon in Sartell on the Saturday after Homecoming. Bemidji also was without keeper Connor McNallan.
“We were a different team on Tuesday,” Toward said. “In our first game with Sartell many things were working against us but on Tuesday those things were working for us.
“Sartell just went through an emotional shootout win over Apollo in its quarterfinal while we were able to rest our starters in our 4-0 win over East Grand Forks. It’s tough to have the type of emotional commitment that Sartell needed for two games in a row.”
Bemidji was ready to go from the opening whistle Tuesday and 18 minutes into the action the Lumberjacks were on the board.
Isak Sommer had a free kick from just inside midfield and he was able to thread the boot through the traffic onto the net.
Gardner did get a piece of the shot but he couldn’t control the rebound and Matt Bitter was able to pound it home.
A few minutes later Sartell defender Zach Jacobson thwarted Alex Schussman when he dived in the box to deflect a shot that seemed destined for the lower right corner.
Bemidji continued to apply the pressure, however, and the effort was rewarded when Wall lofted his 25-yard shot over the defense, off the post and into the goal.
Sartell manufactured one golden opportunity in the half when Kyle Erickson gained control at the left sideline and found Jared Forst just outside the goal line with the feed. Forst delivered a perfect header that was targeted for the left corner but McNallan anticipated the shot and Forst was stunned to see Bemidji’s keeper cradling the ball after making the save.
The Lumberjacks took the 2-0 lead into intermission and during the break the coaching staff opted for a change of strategy.
“We wanted to deny all scoring opportunities and keep the ball to the outside,” said BHS defender Wyatt Miller. “As a team we were doing anything we could to make it tough for Sartell to score.
“Our midfielders, Austin (Kovach), Isak (Sommer) and Joel (Johannsen) always came back to help the defenders and our attackers dropped back so when we did get possession we could quickly move the ball upfield,” Miller added.
“We already had enough goals to win,” Toward said, “so our No. 1 objective in the second half was to deny Sartell any scoring chances.
“And I don’t remember Sartell having a legitimate chance to score in that half.”
McNallan was credited with eight saves but only on Forst’s header was the senior challenged. Bemidji didn’t apply much pressure either as Gardner faced only four shots.
“Coach always says that we should take a game 5 minutes at a time,” Wall said. “That’s what we did on Tuesday and it worked.
“And that’s what we’ll try to do in the section championship game.”
Bemidji 2, Sartell 0
Sartell 0 0 - 0
Bemidji 2 0 - 2
B-Bitter (Sommer). 18:07
B-Wall (unassisted). 25:48
Gardner (S) 1 1 - 2
McNallan (B) 4 4 - 8