Arlington, who finished the regular season at 6-6, played half of their regular season games against Division I and II teams, and Twin Valley coach Buddy Hayford knew Arlington would be a tough matchup. “They had been playing well in the last stretch of the season, and I knew it would be a tough draw all day.” Fred Pickering and his five regular-season hat tricks anchored Arlington’s offense this year.
Hayford’s defensive strategy called for blanketing Pickering while limiting Arlington’s breakaway opportunities. Twin Valley’s stellar defense answered in the first half, stuffing Arlington’s offense in the midfield, while defender Cade Nesbitt’s selfless efforts kept Pickering under wraps all afternoon.
Twin Valley’s offense began the game strong, with an arsenal of shots at Arlington goalie D.J. Jennings, but Twin Valley’s attempts went wide and high each time. Arlington’s defense began to catch up, plugging up the Wildcats’ pass opportunities. The Wildcats’ offensive strategy of working the ball through the middle got stagnant as Dal Nesbitt, Nick Nilsen, and Colin Lozito got bunched up too often and found few inside opportunities.
The first half played like a boxing match, and when each team returned to their corner at the half, the scoreboard showed a 0-0 deadlock. Arlington would threaten first in the second half with 21 minutes left. Pickering got a chance to score on goalie Sam Molner, caught out of position. As Pickering’s shot sailed toward pay dirt, Twin Valley’s defensive anchor Eli Park slid in front of it to preserve the tie.
From then on it was all Twin Valley. Hayford changed his team’s strategy for the second half, attacking the edges of Arlington’s defense, and his team began to find success., Lozito, Nesbitt, and Hunter Therrien focused their attack on the right side of the field, confusing Arlington with tricky passing in the right corner, and creating openings in the middle.
“We saw that their goalie, Jennings, bobbles and slaps the ball,” said Hayford. “I told them, make sure if someone’s shooting we need to clean up the loose balls.”
Hayford’s plan worked out perfectly 62 minutes into the game when Therrien broke loose in the goalie box on the right side, drawing multiple defenders and leaving Tony Tarr alone with Jennings. Therrien ripped off a shot, which Jennings slapped to the ground at Tarr’s feet. Tarr easily rolled it into the goal.
Twin Valley needed to put the game out of reach, and once again it was Tarr coming up big, scoring the insurance goal 10 minutes later. Arlington had worn down and began kicking the ball out of bounds in their defensive third. Nesbitt delivered one of his perfect, freakishly long throw-ins from the right side into the penalty box, where Tarr’s head was waiting, skipping another in past Jennings.
Hayford saw a team effort from his Wildcats. “Sammy (Molner) only had two saves, and that’s less shots then you would think but it’s true. It came down to a tremendous job keeping the ball out of our penalty box, limiting corner kicks, and a midfield that worked hard.”