Maple Grove senior Antonio Magadan went up to control a throw-in in the first half of the Crimson's 3-1 victory over St. Cloud Tech in the Class 2A, Section 8 boys soccer final. Photo by Mark Hvidsten, SportsEngine
St. Cloud Tech's Edgar Waldusky (6) and Maple Grove's Jeff Clune (20) battled for a ball. Photo by Mark Hvidsten, SportsEngine
Following its win in the Class 2A, Section 8 final, Maple Grove coach Greg Leininger and his players agreed — the early part of the game wasn’t pretty.
“We were nervous and weren’t playing our style,” Leininger said.
Thankfully for the Crimson, junior forward Alex Downing was there to ease any anxious players, coaches or fans.
Downing scored two goals and added an assist. His offensive outburst led the way as No. 1 seed Maple Grove defeated No. 3 seed St. Cloud Tech 3-1 on Tuesday to advance to the Class 2A state tournament.
During the regular season, the Crimson (15-1-2) were frequently helped by Downing. The junior was second on the team with eight goals during his first season playing with Maple Grove’s varsity team.
For Downing, he had plenty of time to watch before stepping up to the Crimson’s highest level. He was forced to play on the junior varsity team as a sophomore after transferring from West Lutheran High School.
But Downing did take advantage of his time on JV by developing some camaraderie with his future varsity teammates in practice.
“I got to know the varsity guys pretty well,” Downing said. “When I came up [to varsity], I knew what to expect.”
During Tuesday’s match, Downing was relied upon as a sort of calming force. With the two teams meeting for the first time in the section final, there was a feeling out period early that resulted misplays by both teams.
“I had no clue what to expect,” Downing said. “It took us some time to figure out their style.”
Amid figuring out what the Tigers were like on the field, St. Cloud Tech (12-4-3) jumped on the board early with a goal from senior Ismail Ismail in the 21st minute. For Tigers coach Nantha Viswanathan, a strong start was something he preached to his team prior to the opening kick.
“We had been practicing and trying to get shots on net to get that early lead,” Viswanathan said. “We thought we changed the momentum.”
Any momentum underdog St. Cloud Tech had was quickly squashed when junior Riley Gill scored in the 23rd minute to tie the game at one.
“We didn’t start playing our game until they scored first,” Leininger said. “It took the pressure off us and allowed us just to play our game.”
Following Gill’s goal, it was time for Downing to take over. In the 46th minute, the junior converted on a free kick to give Maple Grove a 2-1 lead.
Three minutes later, Downing cracked the score sheet again and gave the Crimson some insurance.
Despite the nerves Maple Grove might have had, Downing looked unfazed, running up and down the field while his shoulder-length hair bounced with him. Leininger attributes that to his personality.
“He’s always calm,” Leininger said. “He’s just really confident. Everybody is ‘bro’ to him.”
This win means Crimson advance to the state tournament for the first time since 2014, when Maple Grove took fourth. If the Crimson want to advance on and improve on their most recent finish, they will need the help of Downing and senior Jeff Clune, who led Maple Grove with nine goals during the regular season.
But once again, Downing appears to be a confident force on the Crimson sideline.
“We just have to keep going and play as a team,” Downing said. “We know every team from here is going to be better and better.”
Some wise words from a player who’s about to embark on his first state tournament.
After trailing 1-0 in the first half, Alex Downing and Maple Grove scored three unanswered goals en route to a 3-1 win against St. Cloud Tech in the Class 2A, Section 8 championship at Maple Grove High School.
Tigers senior Ismail Ismail got his team on the board first, scoring St. Cloud Tech's lone goal in the game's 21st minute.
Junior Riley Gill got the equalizer for the Crimson, who are ranked fifth in the Class 2A coaches’ poll, in the 23rd minute. Downing added the go-ahead goal for Maple Grove (15-1-2) early in the second half on a direct kick from just outside the box.
Downing’s second goal of the night and fourth of the section tournament came three minutes after his first tally of the night. His strike from close to the net gave the Crimson a 3-1 lead.
St. Cloud Tech (12-4-3) was held in check thanks to Maple Grove’s defense and Crimson junior goalie Matt Hennessey, who made six saves in the win. His counterpart, Nathan Hilbert, had seven saves for the Tigers.
Maple Grove’s win means the Crimson advance to the state tournament for the first time since 2014. Their game time and opponent will be decided during the Class 2A seeding meeting, which is set to take place on Saturday.
Maple Grove junior Alex Downing raced for a ball in the second half. Downing's two second-half goals lifted the Crimson to a 3-1 victory. Photo by Mark Hvidsten, SportsEngine
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