Apr 23, 2017 - By Scott Akanewich, Sports EditorRiverton's boys defeated Star Valley for the Class 3-A Southwest championship with a 2-0 home victory.
Soccer is a sport of trophies.
On Friday at Wolverine Field, the Riverton boys footballers hoisted a shiny piece of hardware above their collective heads following a 2-0 victory over Star Valley, which clinched the Class 3-A Southwest title and in the process, punched Big Red's ticket to the state tournament in Sheridan on May 18-20.
The Wolverines burst from the starting gate right from the get-go, with Gavin Settlemire testing the Braves' keeper in just the fifth minute under stormy, dark skies, as the rain and wind wreaked havoc across the pitch.
However, the visitors responded in kind with a crack at goal of their own only a minute later, which was expertly dealt with by Wolverines netminder Shawn Curtain.
Star Valley kept the early pressure on and blazed a free kick over the bar in the 18th minute, but it was that man again, Slade Becker, who has been a revelation for the Wolverines since his move from goal up front, who got the home side on the board with what ended up being the game-winning goal.
Reed Axthelm played a short corner, which Becker latched onto and deftly dribbled the ball along the goal line before slipping a shot into the net, which deflected off the keeper and in for a 1-0 lead in the 20th minute, which is how the first half ended.
In the second 40 minutes, the contest became increasingly more physical as the Braves fought to find an equalizer, with bodies hitting the floor with regularity as time and again, players went to ground in attempts to win the ball away from one another.
Nic Fenton fed off the intense nature of the proceedings and produced a pair of scoring chances in the 54th and 60th minutes, sandwiched around an Axthelm strike which just sailed over the crossbar.
Star Valley came close with a shot which rang off the woodwork at the other end, but that was their last chance saloon, as Riverton's Kevin Patrzek scored on a near-impossible angle shot, after chasing a loose ball down on the end line, then unleashing a right-footed laser which actually passed between the keeper and the near post before clanking off the far post and in for the final margin in stoppage time for a 2-0 victory.
Following the game, the Wolverines gathered near midfield and were justly rewarded for their efforts, as they were presented with the conference trophy.
Riverton head coach Aziz Waheed acknowledged the nature of the match and the intensity it created for all involved.
"It was definitely a physical matchup," said Waheed. "Both teams came to play with what was at stake."
Indeed, what was at stake was not only the conference title, but the luxury of not having to play at regionals to qualify for the state tourney, a fact which wasn't lost on Waheed in the aftermath, he said.
"Going into the season, our goal was to win the conference," said Waheed. "We're very pleased with the automatic bid to state."
According to Waheed, his squad came out with a vengeance and established themselves early, imposing their will from the outset.
"I thought we played phenomenal for the first 25 minutes," said Waheed. "Our movements after passes and off the ball were exquisite. Defensively, we were in the right spots and our attack was cohesive with numbers going forward."
Again, it was the dynamic midfield duo of Evan White and Kevin Schmidt who controlled the middle of the park, while Steven Jones thrived on the physical nature of the contest, said Waheed.
"Evan and Kevin did a nice job disrupting their attack," he said. "Steven continues to get up the field and surprises people with where he starts his runs from."
At the end of the day, all was well as Big Red now has only three regular-season games left, after passing the test of two conference games in as many days and now that they've secured one trophy, they can focus on the big one at the end of the road in Sheridan next month.
"I'm really proud of our guys," said Waheed. "This team has been through a lot of adversity this season, but they've been resilient, used no excuses and worked to achieve thier goals."
Riverton (8-3-2, 3-0-1 Class 3-A Southwest) will face Powell and Cody next Friday and Saturday before ending the regular season with a home contest against Fremont County rivals Lander on May 9.
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