Sometimes, talent will just take over.
Faced with a 3-2 deficit to their archrivals with less than 10 minutes to go on a slick and fast Homestead grass field Oct. 4, the defending D2 state champion Whitefish Bay boys soccer team showed why it has sat atop state polls all fall when Nick Anguil-Andriacchi and Shawn Azcueta punched in two late goals to secure a critical 4-3 North Shore Conference victory.
The win was very important to the Blue Dukes as it effectively clinched the North Shore crown for them with one game left to play. The NSC title was the one thing Bay lost out on last season (Cedarburg was the champ), and Bay really wanted to make amends.
"I really liked how we continued to battle and play our style," said Bay coach Rob Dubinski. "It really shows that we can battle back when faced with a bit of adversity ... we haven't won it, but this goes a long ways toward it (the NSC title). It was one of our goals on the board. We wanted to win conference, the Gusho tournament, the (WIAA) regional and sectional. All the hardware we could get our hands on."
"I'm not surprised the game went this way. Both sides have a lot of technically skilled players, and we're the only team in the conference with a turf (artificial) field, so everyone wants to get us on grass."
But Homestead coach Rich Dorn, whose team fell to 4-1 in league play, said the slick, grassy field did nothing but speed up the already fast Blue Dukes.
"Sometimes you just have to look at the fine skill a team like Bay brings to the table," he said. "In some instances, they were just a half-step quicker to the ball than we were. Sometimes they were just that explosive."
Just as the Blue Dukes were in crunch time.
Azcueta's goal came at the 87:29 mark and culminated in an action-packed final 10 minutes of play that saw four goals scored.
Bay had taken a 2-1 lead on a long shot by junior defender Anthony Giunta in the 60th minute, but then the Highlanders tied the score on a breakaway goal from Gianakos (Jack Finney assist) at the 78:11 mark. But just as Dubinski was addressing a player to tell the Blue Dukes to be a little more careful in how they defend their own end, Homestead struck again, as Luca De Martino won the ball on a scrum right in front of the Bay goal and punched it for a 3-2 lead at the 80:09 mark. Finney again had the assist.
Bay stays in control
An opportunity for Homestead to take control of the North Shore race was in its grasp, but Bay would not let that happen.
Anguil-Andriacchi, a key playmaker on the 2015 title team who has missed several games this season due to injury, got the ball on a nice give-and-go on the right side and blasted one in at the 85:04 mark to tie the score for Bay.
That set the table for Azcueta, who has stepped up in a major way this fall as the Blue Dukes have battled their way through a series of injuries.
"The goalie punted it out, and it landed right at my feet," he said. "I looked up and saw no one was in the goal, so I just hit the shot (from point blank range) with my right foot, and it went in."
A stunned Homestead side could not recover.
Dubinski was not surprised at the fast finish, as the slick field, which he likened to playing on a skating rink, gave all the advantage to the forward moving attackers and made life difficult for the backpedaling defenders.
"It was like playing on a skating rink," said Dubinski.
Dorn took the blame for his team's inability to hold onto the lead.
"It comes down to the youth of our players, a lot of whom don't have big game experience and can't close games like this out," he said, "but our kids absolutely played their hearts out, and I feel awful for them. I just have to do a better job of preparing them for situations like these, such as when you have a lead, how to position yourself precisely and correctly."
Homestead had taken a first-half lead on a goal from Finney (Gianakos) only to have Blue Duke star Zavier Ware tie the game up before the break (Jackson Dryden assist).
Bay has only a game with Grafton at home Monday, Oct. 10, left on its league schedule, while Homestead has a make-up game with Germantown at home on Saturday, Oct. 8, and then its closer on Oct. 10 at Cedarburg.
"Our chemistry is very, very strong," Dorn said. "The kids have a winner's mentality. We just have to find a way to harness all their spectacular energy."
Meanwhile, Bay wants to finish the job it started by winning conference. Dubinski found no more fitting opponent for a game of this importance than Homestead.
"Homestead and Bay games are always a battle," he said. "It doesn't matter the skill level for either side. This is always a hard-fought grudge match. We're glad we got it done here."
"We're glad that we fought through some adversity," Azcueta added. "We were able to push the injuries aside and play together as a team."