ALBERT LEA — It's been a long time coming, so why not play an even and tense game to make it happen? The Byron boys soccer team is going to the state tournament for the first time after winning a nail-biter on Tuesday night.
After watching the Byron girls earn their first state trip earlier in the event, the second-seeded boys team won the Section 1AA championship with a tense shootout win over No. 4 Austin. The game was tied 2-2 after regulation and overtime. It was also tied in the shootout at 3-3 after five shooters and then went to a sudden death. Both teams scored in the first extra shootout session.
"It was very tense," Bears senior goalie Ryan Anderson said. "That was the first shootout that I participated in and it was great. I stayed focused and it was only me and the shooter."
Noah Schrooten, Ryan Boyken and Bradley Pavon all scored for Byron in the first part of the shootout. In a sudden-death round, Connor Krogstad and Ethan Klein scored for Byron. After Klein’s goal, Anderson made a sprawling save that gave Byron the victory and touched off a wild celebration by the Bears.
"It’s unbelievable, we’ve been wishing for this moment since we were little kids,” Byron senior Garett Johnson said. “The season’s not over, we’ve still got state left, but it was definitely great to pull out the win.”
A section title seemed unlikely at the start the season. Byron had an 0-3-1 start before the veteran squad turned its season around.
“It does feel good,” said Byron coach Dave Bahr, who guided the Mayo boys soccer team to a state berth 21 years ago.
This is Bahr’s fourth season as the coach at Byron, and many of this year’s seniors were on his first team as freshmen.
“We started seven freshmen my first year,” Bahr said. “They’ve just really come along. It’s been a good journey.”
“It feels wonderful, we’re going to go home happy and get ready (for state),” Anderson said.
The surging Bears, who have now won eight straight, had beaten Austin 3-1 on Oct. 9, but were expecting a tougher game this time around and they were right.
“Austin was extremely tough,” Bahr said. “We thought we had them figured out, but they came (to play) tonight. They didn’t make the mistakes they did a week and a half ago. It was just a fight.”
“It really came down to who can execute their job best,” Anderson said. “... We knew we could beat them, it was going to be a different game, a closer game and we all knew that as a team.”
The contest was very even as both teams had 10 shots on goal through the overtime.
Austin, which beat Dover-Eyota in a shootout in last year's section title game, surged at the start. The Packers took the game's first lead when Aidan Martinez scored on a header with 11:32 left in the half.
After Anderson made a huge diving save, Byron sophomore Liam Schick scored with just 36 seconds left in the first half to tie the game at 1-1. Johnson scored on a header with 32:53 left in regulation to give the Bears a 2-1 lead in the second half.
“We just had to come out and play our game, and we did that,” Johnson said.
Austin's Kaleb Tedesse scored with 5:30 left in regulation to tie the game and set up the exciting finish.
Neither Schick or Johnson, who scored Byron's goals in regulation, shot during the shootout and they had to watch tensely as their teammates stepped up.
“It’s all trust, we’ve been a family since Day One,” Johnson said. “They got to go out there and show their talent. It was tough for me on the side, but it was a blast.”
Austin finishes 8-7-3.
Byron (12-5-1) will play in the Class AA state tournament next week. The state seedings will be announced on Saturday.
Byron 2, Austin 2, SO
(Byron outscored Austin 5-4 in shootout)
No. 4 Austin: Aidan Martinez 1 goal; Kaleb Tedesse 1 goal; Joel Thwang 1 assist. Goalie: Logan Pederson 8 saves.
No. 2 Byron: Liam Schick 1 goal; Garett Jonnson 1 goal, Zachary Ellavsky 1 assist; Bradley Pavon 1 assist. Goalie: Ryan Anderson 8 saves.