The Baraboo High School boys soccer team served some notice to the rest of the Badger North Conference on Tuesday night.
The Thunderbirds went out and played toe-to-toe with perennial conference contender Sauk Prairie, playing the Eagles to a 2-2 tie in the Badger North opener at Baraboo High School.
“The guys played really well tonight,” Baraboo coach Tyler Lang said. “I felt that we controlled most of the game, as far as the speed of play.
“You heard the crowd… everybody was into it. It was an exciting game, back and forth… that’s what soccer’s all about.”
The host Thunderbirds (3-2-1, 0-0-1 Badger North) stuck with the Eagles (4-0-1, 0-0-1) for the first time since 2013, ending Sauk Prairie’s six-game winning streak in the series.
Tuesday was the first blemish on Sauk Prairie’s record this season. The Eagles had entered the day unbeaten with three shutouts, a scoring differential of 19-2, and as the seventh-ranked Division 2 team in the latest Wisconsin Soccer Coaches Association poll.
The T-Birds came out of the gates as the aggressors, as Sauk Prairie senior goalkeeper Riley Jelinek had his hands on the ball four times in the opening nine minutes of the game.
Sauk Prairie junior Joe Baumgardt started to create pressure from the left wing in the 11th minute, but Baraboo senior goalie Will Gunnell made three saves, including one on a hard shot by senior Simon Enerson, to keep the game scoreless.
Baraboo cracked the code in the 23rd minute, thanks to a bit of brilliance from Ronaldo Lopez. The ball was unclaimed near midfield when the freshman took control of it and put a deep shot over an unsuspecting Jelinek to give the T-Birds a 1-0 lead 22:49 into the first half.
“Ronaldo seeing the goalkeeper out… that’s the kind of smart soccer we’re looking to keep playing,” Lang said.
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It didn’t take long for Evan Carlson to respond. The Sauk Prairie senior took a pass from Simon Enerson, touched it over a charging Gunnell and put it in the back of the net to tie the game at 1 at the 29:19 mark.
Both teams had their chances the rest of the half. Baraboo came the closest to taking the lead, but Jelinek’s right glove tipped a shot just wide in the 43rd minute and the teams went into halftime tied at 1.
The Eagles took their first lead of the night when senior Trent Schneeberger scored at 66:20 to make it 2-1. The Eagles kept the pressure up, forcing Gunnell to make a diving save on a cross into the box a minute later.
“We’ve talked about making sure we’re not getting our heads down,” Lang said of how the T-Birds were able to weather Sauk Prairie’s offensive storm. “Playing through things and keeping our heads in the right mindset. The defense did a great job of that. We played smart defense overall.”
The T-Birds eventually turned the tide back their way, and their playmakers made a play. Ronaldo Lopez found his twin brother Johan for a 76th-minute goal that tied the game at 2.
“They bring a lot of energy, and that attacking style,” Lang said of how the Lopezes have impacted the T-Birds through their first six games. “Last year, it was definitely more of a defensive-minded team. This year, we can create a lot more opportunities. The Lopez boys did a great job.”
They nearly walked away with a win, as the T-Birds put several balls into the penalty box in the closing minutes, and Ronaldo Lopez’ 89th-minute penalty kick went just over the crossbar.
“We had plenty of opportunities up top, so we’ll just tweak those fine-tuning things and we’ll keep producing,” Lang said.
The T-Birds and Eagles will both participate in an invitational Friday and Saturday at Woodside Sports Complex in Wisconsin Dells.