OREGON – As the meeting ground of two teams in the middle of miracle seasons, the end result of Tuesday’s Class 1A Oregon Sectional semifinal was always going to be a tough one for the losing team to swallow.
That ended up being Indian Creek, which saw it's season end, 2-0, at the hands of Richmond-Burton.
The Rockets (19-6), true to their name, burst out of the gates to open the match, putting T-Wolves (18-7-1) keeper Logan Bend under heaps of pressure in the first half. Shot after shot fell safely into the keeper’s gloves as IC tried to organize themselves in attack. With substantial wind coming onto the field, the proceedings were largely disorganized as each team felt the other out.
The Rockets’ intense pressure ultimately cracked Bend, and sophomore forward Ethan Demers was able to squeak the ball by the IC keeper, the shot taking a bounce off him as it rolled into the back of the net.
“We’re definitely a team that likes to pressure the backs by playing a high press,” said Rockets coach Casey DeCaluwe. “We played them before and we kind of knew – press their pass. Sometimes they give up the ball.”
That was certainly the case, as shot after shot came from the Rockets throughout the first half. Demers shot the ball four times in six minutes; his score came on the second, but the relentless attitude typified how dominant first 40 minutes looked for Richmond-Burton. IC, for their part, mustered four shots total in the first half, three coming from corners.
“I think they're a good team for sure,” IC head coach Eric Schrader said. “We like to dribble too much. They did a good job with kicking it right away when they had a chance.”
In the second half, the T-Wolves, led by the finesse of Cameron Russell and Drew Gaston up top, began to find their shape. Their clearest chance came 9 minutes in, when midfielder Colton Headon managed to maintain possession through a thicket of Rockets players before picking out Russell to the left of net with a gorgeous pass. With space and time, Russell fired near-post, but senior keeper Jake Maldonado made the save to keep Richmond-Burton in front.
“Cameron, he's been that way all year,” said Schrader. “He's done it every game and he never stops. Just keeps going.”
“Number two [Russell] did a fantastic job,” added DeCaluwe. "Probably number two is the classiest player on that group.”
Richmond-Burton midfielder and captain Payton May added to the Rockets’ total with a curling effort into the upper right corner.
“I think we just outworked them,” May said. “We move with the ball really well, especially in that second half… I wanted to make a play on that ball. I got my head over it and just hit it.”
With 22 minutes remaining, IC’s collective frustration began to mount. Gaston, who made more tackles than shots, collected a yellow card after kicking the ball into the face of a Rockets player. Eight minutes later, a verbal disagreement with an IHSA official earned Gaston his second and an ejection, leaving the T-Wolves with a nearly-impossible task: scoring two goals in six minutes with just 10 men and missing their 46-goal scorer.
“We just need to keep our cool,” said Schrader. “That's all there is to it. I mean, they [the refs] call the game, so we've just got to play it.”
When the whistle blew, Richmond-Burton still celebrated like they’d only grabbed a winner in the last minute. For the Rockets, this result was untouched territory.
“I'm really proud of the fact that right now we haven't given up a postseason goal,” said DeCaluwe. “We've shored things up in the backline and I just take away the fact that here we are in a sectional championship for our first ever time and we're really enjoying the ride.”
For Schrader and IC, this season may be at its end, but he continues looking ahead.
“They should be proud of what they did,” he said. “They know next year everybody's back. So we'll build off of this and keep going.”
By the numbers: IC keeper Logan Bend made nine saves in the first half alone as the long balls and high press of Richmond-Burton continued to infiltrate the Indian Creek defense.
Beyond the box score: Rockets fullback Carson Webb nearly scored a world-class goal from a 30-yard set-piece when he struck the ball into the wind, imparting a curve on the shot that nearly beat Bend on his line.
They said it: “I think these games are just fun,” May said. “They're always fun, especially with the trash talk, it gets us going. Makes us want to win more.”
Up next: Richmond-Burton advances to the finals of the sectional, facing either Schaumburg Christian or Oregon.