WILLMAR — During the second half of his team’s Section 6A first-round match against Delano, Willmar junior midfielder Liban Mohamed leaped into the air and swung a fired-up fist pump after notching an equalizer in the 51st minute.
Four minutes later, senior attacker and team co-captain Devin Sankey repeated Mohamed’s scoring sequence to a tee, from the goal on a penalty kick to the joyous fist pump, only Sankey didn’t realize it in the moment.
“It was more out of pure happiness,” Sankey said of his celebration. “I haven’t scored a goal this year, so it was good to put it in the back of the net and I kind of just came up with it on the fly.”
Facing a deficit early in the second half, the eighth-seeded Cardinals ripped off four goals in a 15-minute span en route a 4-1 victory from Hodapp Field on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Improving its record to 7-8-2, the Cardinals advanced to the section quarterfinals and play at top-seeded Waconia on Thursday.
“We’re much better than our record indicates,” Cardinals head coach Jeff Winter said. “We’ve had five overtime matches and five separate one-goal matches, and we’ve just been on the wrong side of many of them. ... It’s nice to be showing (our quality) now in the postseason when it really counts.”
Sandwiched in between Mohamed and Sankey’s penalty kicks, Jairo Martinez Coto collected the game-winner on a wacky play in the 52nd minute. Junior midfielder Kelvin Gomez Padilla sent a cross into the box that was headed by Tigers senior defender Terron O’Neill. However, O’Neill’s clearance bounced off of the left post and back into the field of play. Ever opportunistic, Martinez Coto pounced on the ball and buried the rebound.
Later in the 66th minute, Gomez Padilla scored on an assist from senior defender Walid Mahamed.
Gomez Padilla, the team’s leading scorer, had a chance to put the Cardinals on the scoreboard in the eighth minute after sophomore midfielder Jordy Contreras drew the first of three penalty kicks. However, the junior’s low shot was saved by Delano junior goalkeeper. Jack Keranen.
With a speed advantage up top, Willmar produced several excellent scoring chances with through passes in space, but could never capitalize, as two of the team’s shots just went wide and two others were stoned by Keranen.
“Their goalie had an outstanding game despite giving up four. Early on, (Keranen) kept them in the game,” Winter said. “We had three or four quality chances in the first half against the wind that just didn’t go, and even Kelvin’s penalty was a great save. I was frustrated, I’m sure the players were as well.”
Delano did not generate much offense, but when it did, it came off of crosses and corner kicks. In the 45th minute, sophomore attacker Adam Bergh put the Tigers in front with a goal off a cross. From there, the Tigers were shut out.
“I would say with our backline, we play really calm,” Willmar senior defender Josh Miley said. “If they score on us, we totally just forget it. We stick together and cover each other. If something bad happens to someone, the guy behind him knows I need to cover this guy until my guy can get back and cover my spot.”
Miley and Sankey are two of eight seniors who potentially played their final match in front of their home crowd. With a solid performance, those seniors have at least one more game to prepare for as the team is in search of an upset.
“It was relieving, honestly,” Sankey said. “ I was nervous to start off the game, but I trusted every single one of these guys and that we’re going to win this game. I knew coming into this game that our guys were going to put everything they could into this game.”
“It feels really good,” Miley added. “Since I’m a senior, being able to play another game and hoping to go to state, it feels awesome.
“We got to keep our heads where we need them, we got to control the ball. ...If you watch any of our games, we play all together. Everyone is contributing to the team and we’re such a good passing team, we just have to finish.”
Willmar 4, Delano 1
Delano (6-9-2)................. 0 1 — 1
Willmar (7-8-2)................ 0 4 — 4
FIRST HALF – None
SECOND HALF – D: Adam Bergh (Cole Kabachenko) 46th minute ... W: Liban Mohamed (Jordy Contreras) 51st minute ... W: Jairo Martinez Coto 52nd minute ... W: Devin Sankey (Contreras) 55th minute ... W: Kelvin Gomez Padilla (Walid Mahamed) 66th minute
SHOTS ON GOAL – Delano: 4 ... Willmar: 6
GOALIE SAVES – Delano: Jack Keranen: 3 … Willmar: Leighton Winter 3
DEFENSIVE SAVES – None
Willmar 2, Big Lake 0
Entering its Section 6A first-round match as a heavy underdog, Willmar captured an early lead and never looked back.
The Cardinals, the No. 12 seed in the section bracket, earned a 2-0 victory on the road over fifth-seeded Big Lake Tuesday night.
With the triumph, Willmar will travel to Maple Grove and take on fourth-seeded Heritage Christian Academy in the quarterfinals Thursday at 5 p.m.
Just two minutes into the match, junior midfielder Julissa Celis-Victoria gave the Cardinals a much-needed early advantage when she netted a shot by Hornets goalkeeper Makenna Witucki. The score remained the same until the 52nd minute after Celis-Victoria picked up an assist on a goal from junior forward Sabrina Correa.
Big Lake outshot the visitors 13-7. However, sophomore goalkeeper Ella Swenson stopped all 13 shots to pick up a clean sheet.