Boys soccer state tournament: Hill-Murray cruises to another championship match

Hard as it may have been for the past year, staying in the moment has led to another prime opportunity for the Hill-Murray boys soccer team.

On Wednesday afternoon, Zach Frey had two goals, fellow seniors Vinny Pearcy, Wilfredo Vargas, Taylor Petrich and Austin Mjanger also scored, and the second-seeded Pioneers scored four times in the second half to beat unseeded St. Cloud Tech 6-1 in a Class 3A state tournament semifinal at U.S. Bank Stadium.

No. 1 Orono will be the opponent in Friday’s 12:30 p.m. championship game back at U.S. Bank Stadium. Lisle Cherwien scored late in the second overtime, and the Spartans beat DeLaSalle 4-3 in the other semifinal.

The tournament’s top seed in 2022, Hill-Murray lost to DeLaSalle via shootout in the title game. The Pioneers have yet to win in three championship game appearances.

“State final is our next game” or “State final is our next practice” were commonly heard things throughout this season, be it practice or games, said midfielder Jacon Dinzeo. “That finally happened, and it showed that staying in the present is pretty powerful,” he said. “Even though the state final is Friday, we still have recovery Thursday, we still have a meal tonight, we still have hydration. Until that game we’ve got to stay in the moment.”

That is something coach Jeff Zupfer had to instill in this senior-laden squad. The tournament program shows 16 seniors dotting the Hill-Murray roster.

“It was a challenge,” Zupfer admitted, “but it also was helpful to have our really good group of seniors, and a lot of seniors. That leadership really kept us grounded and just kept us in the present.”

The Pioneers (16-3-2) have outscored opponents 35-5 in winning seven straight matches, including a 6-2 win over Mahtomedi in last week’s state tournament quarterfinal round.

“They’ve got a roster of players who can play incredibly well 1 v. 1. … Today we just couldn’t quite stop them,” St. Cloud Tech coach Daniel Stoterau said.

With Hill-Murray leading 2-1 in the second half, Vargas scored in the 53rd minute, before Frey converted a pass from Dinzeo in the 56th minute for his second tally and a 4-1 lead.

Frey gave the Pioneers a 2-0 lead in the 25th minute, curling in a strike from 29 yards out, but St. Cloud Tech halved the deficit with a laser from Omar Ali in the final minute of the first half.

“It was a little bit of an energy kill when they scored,” Dinzeo said. “When we went back in the locker room, we just stayed in the present. … We made sure to stay solid on the back line and not make many mistakes. And (we did) really for that first five minutes of the second half until the game calmed down, and then as the game opened up, we had some good chances.”

St. Cloud Tech (9-8-3) missed on a juicy rebound for what would have been the game’s first goal. Instead, the Tigers were down 1-0 less than a minute later when Dinzeo fed Pearcy racing into the box. Approaching the left post, the senior stopped to let the defender’s momentum carry him past before putting the ball between the goaltender and the post in the game’s eighth minute.

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