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State tourney bound

Willmar defenders take aim at an Orono player during the Section 6A championship game on Tuesday in Orono. Willmar won 4-3 on penalty kicks. Clay Cunningham / Tribune.1 / 2
Willmar's Fernando Zavala, left, works the ball near midfield during the Section 6A championship game against Orono on Tuesday in Orono. The Cardinals defeated the Spartans 4-3 on penalty kicks to advance to the Class A state tournament. Clay Cunningham / Tribune.2 / 2

ORONO — With a two goal lead and just 9:58 standing between them and a section title, the Willmar boys soccer team looked poised to punch its ticket to the state tournament.

Defending state champ Orono decided to make it more of a challenge. Goalkeeper Manny Obregon and the rest of the Cardinals were up to it.

The Cardinals were forced to penalty kicks to decide the outcome and Jesus Nevarez clinched a 3-1 finish in penalty kicks as Willmar escaped with a 4-3 win to capture the Section 6A title.

Obregon made three saves in four shots to help set up Nevarez' clinching PK.

Aside from securing a state berth, Cardinal head coach Jeff Winter said his keeper had additional motivation for turning the Spartans away.

"I found out today who was All-State and he was nominated but didn't make it," Winter said. "And I said 'prove them wrong' and he came up bigger than I ever could have dreamed he would have."

Obregon, who was in tears afterwards, said getting to the state tournament was a long-time goal for he and his fellow seniors, and called the triumph "a big weight off of all our shoulders."

The Class AA and Class A state tournaments begin next week, with games at various sites beginning Oct. 24. Seeds have yet to be determined. Semifinals and championship matches will be played at U.S. Bank Stadium.

A Willmar win seemed virtually in the bag late in the second half. Trailing 1-0 at the break, Willmar got three second half goals from Fernando Zavala in the first 17 minutes to build up a two-goal advantage.

But the Spartans didn't go away, and quickly found new life behind Ethan Church goals.

Church got Orono within one with 9:58 to play, then capped the comeback by scoring on a penalty pick with 3:52 remaining.

Church's scores sent the game to overtime, where neither team scored in the two 20-minute periods.

The Cardinals struck first in PKs on a goal by Gerson Maldonado-Garcia, before the Spartans tied it up off the foot of Christian Babo.

But after Francis Winter made it 2-1 Willmar, Obregon made his third save in four shots, which set Nevarez up for what became the clinching goal.

The win also proved a bit of redemption for Willmar, which lost to Orono 1-0 in overtime in the section finals a season ago.

And after seeing the Spartans ride that win to a state title, Winter isn't putting any limits on his team going forward.

"The sky's the limit," he said. "If we can beat the defending state champions, we have limitless potential."

Willmar 4, Orono 3

Willmar................. 0 3 0 0 3 — 4

Orono................... 1 2 0 0 2 — 3

FIRST HALF — (1) Orono: Spencer Overturf 35th minute

SECOND HALF — (2) Willmar: Fernando Zavala 44th minute ... (3) Willmar: Zavala 47th minute ... (4) Willmar: Zavala 57th minute ... (5) Orono: Ethan Church 71st minute ... (6) Church 77th minute

OVERTIME — No scoring

PENALTY KICKS — Willmar: Gerson Maldonado-Garcia, Francis Winter and Jesus Nevarez. Orono: Christian Babo

SHOTS ON GOAL — Willmar 6, Orono 9

GOALIE SAVES — Willmar: Manny Obregon 6... Orono: Jesse Bissen 3

DEFENSIVE SAVES — NA

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