MADISON — Lake Mills sophomore midfielder Brayden Ciesiolka stepped to the line in shootout with things knotted at two.
Ciesiolka noticed Lake Country Lutheran goalie Adam Zuhlke leaning a tad to the right, so he kicked left.
The kick went in and the L-Cats defeated the Lightning 2-2 (3-2) in a WIAA Division 4 sectional final at Goodman Sports Complex to clinch the program’s first state championship appearance.
“Just try not to think, go up there and take a deep breath. Just do what I normally do in practice,” Ciesiolka said of the moments before the game-winner. “Place it where I normally place it. He leaned a little to the right before I kicked it so I placed it a little bit to the left.
“It’s been a journey with these guys. We started in the beginning of August. Continued to work and continued to grind. We exceeded what we wanted to do, made it to state.”
Lake Mills (14-8-3) trailed 2-0 at halftime and never led in the shootout until the very end. They were down but anything from out.
Lake Country’s John Daniels, who scored both of the team’s first-half goals, open the shootout with a successful try. Wilke was stopped by Zuhkle, who dove left to make the stop.
Lake Mills keeper Connor Dean stopped a Steven Islas shot next before Lake Mills sophomore Sam Wolff converted to tie it at one.
“John (Wilke’s) shot got saved which was a nice save. I knew I needed to make a save because if we go down 2-0 we need to make three and I need to stop three which is hard to do in a row,” Dean said. “I had Wilke pointing out which way they were going to go and I went with him and it worked out.”
After misses in the third round, Garrett Lueth opened the fourth with a make that found the top left section of the goal and put the L-Cats in a 2-point hole.
Junior forward Drew Stoddard then kept the game going with a goal to setting up a do-or-die fifth round. Ty Brewer tried to elevate a shot to the left side of the goal but Dean reached out at full extension and batted it away.
Ciesiolka stepped in and stepped up in a big way to send the L-Cats to Milwaukee for the state tournament that commences Thursday against Racine Prairie School.
“The pressure is definitely a lot but getting practice and knowing how to place the ball and doing it consistently really helps, kind of relieves a little of the pressure,” Ciesiolka said.
First-year Lake Mills coach Tony Cooke had the guy he wanted at the line with the season hanging in the balance.
“All I saw was a great kick. He’s been a great kicker for us and a great kicker for the football team all year,” he said. “If anybody was going to be on that line at that point, Brayden Ciesiolka was the one to do it.”
The L-Cats are 3-0 in games decided by shootout, having won two games at a season-opening tournament.
“We started our season in a tournament where we won two games in penalty kicks. Other teams have practiced this at practice, this is our third game that has gone into penalty kicks,” Cooke said. “We knew our order, we knew Connor had it. He’s got all of our confidence. The shooters have all of our confidence.”
The L-Cats, looking to score downwind in the second half, cut the Lightning (13-7-1) lead in half with a John Wilke goal in the 58th minute. Ciesiolka took a free kick that LCL couldn’t clear and Wilke corralled it, sending it past Zuhlke to make it 2-1.
“We told them we’d be running with a tailwind,” Cooke said of the message at halftime. “I lit a fire underneath them by letting them know we got outplayed in the first half. This is our last chance, we have 45 minutes to prove we should be the ones going to state. Let’s turn on the jets and show them what we got. That’s what they did, went out and played 45 minutes hard and pulled it together. It was awesome.”
Sophomore Isaac Lambert’s header on a corner kick was saved in the 63rd minute. Freshman Miguel Ortega missed on a free kick in the 68th minute right before Wilke tried another corner with Lambert and sophomore defenseman Lucas Hart in the area but nobody was able to put a good touch on it.
In the 79th minute, Wilke sent a corner into the box where junior forward Drew Stoddard had space to shoot. Stoddard’s shot deflected off an LCL defender to an awaiting Ciesiolka, who scored on a shot to the post that Zuhkle narrowly missed, tying the game at two.
“We are a really resilient team,” Cooke said. “One of the things we talked about from the beginning was to bend, don’t break. Don’t get down when things are hard. Just flex and then flex back, they knew John’s shot (in PKs) got stopped so everyone else flexes back and steps up.”
Daniels scored on a Neils assists off a corner kick in the 31st minute. Daniels was then awarded a questionable penalty in the box seven minutes later, burying the try to make it a 2-goal game.
Lake Mills held a 23-13 edge in shots on goal and Dean totaled eight saves.
The practice repetitions for a penalty-kick situation paid dividends in a big way.
“We practice these everyday because in the playoffs you never know what’s going to happen,” Dean said. “I knew if I made my saves at least some people would put them in and we did, it was a difference-maker.”
For the second time in as many games, wind played a factor in the scoring. In Lake Mills’ 2-1 win over Wisconsin Heights/Barneveld in the semifinals, all three goals were scored downwind. The same held true in the finals as both teams converted when they had their chance to attack in favorable conditions. The shots in the shootout also were taken with the wind at the players’ backs.
“We went into extra time after the 90 minutes having played really well in the second half,” Dean said. “The wind had something to do with that. In extra time, the first half was pretty even and in the second half they had it on our side a lot. I had that save in the box that probably would have gone it, it was a really good pass and find.
“We had a lot of momentum going into penalty kicks and we had to put them in and I had to make saves.”
Lake Mills lost some momentum when Wilke’s shot got stopped to open PKs, a play that drew one of the largest ovations from an overly vocal LCL fanbase.
“We just had to keep our heads up and move on,” Ciesiolka said. “Hopefully Dean can make a good save which he did. The pressure goes back on us and we have to push on from there.”
Wilke, a junior, scored for the 33rd time this season, pushing his point total to 78. Ciesiolka’s goal and assist gave him 25 points.
There’s a first time for everything, and the L-Cats are going to make their appearance at state.
“This one if for every kid who has ever played soccer in Lake Mills,” Cooke said. “This is something that the boys team has never done. We have graduates from various years (on the staff). This one is for Lake Mills.”
Lake Mills was awarded the fourth seed and will play the top-seeded Prairie School of Racine on Thursday at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee at 11 a.m.
LAKE MILLS 2
LAKE COUNTRY LUTHERAN 2
(Lake Mills won shootout 3-2)
Lake Country Luth. 2 0 0 0 — 2
Lake Mills 0 2 0 0 — 2
First half — LCL Daniels (Neils), 30’; LCL Daniels (PK), 37’.
Second half — LM Wilke (Ciesiolka), 57; LM Ciesiolka (Stoddard), 78’.
LCL — Daniels kick good
LM — Wilke kick no good
LCL — Islas kick no good
LM — Hart kick good
LCL — Neils kick no good
LM — J. Ortega kick no good
LCL — Lueth kick good
LM — Stoddard kick good
LCL — Brewer kick no good
LM — Ciesiolka kick good
Shots on goal — LCL 13, LM 23. Corner kicks — LCL 12, LM 5. Direct kicks — LCL 5, LM 3. Indirect kicks — LCL 2, LM 4.
Saves — LCL (Zuhlke) 11, LM (Dean) 8