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Man down: CEC conquered in OT

If facing arch-rival Hermantown in a postseason scenario wasn't already difficult, the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys soccer team played most of the elimination game a man down.

Making use of their man-advantage, the Hawks downed the Lumberjacks 4-3 in overtime in a Section 7A boys soccer quarterfinal Saturday afternoon at Bromberg Field in Cloquet.

Third-seeded CEC became a guy short when forward Ben Pietsch slide-tackled beneath the kneecaps of Hermantown goalkeeper Josh Lenard early in the second half. Pietsch received a red card and was ejected.

"He plays as hard as anybody I've ever seen," said ninth-year CEC Coach Archie Clark. "I can't fault him."

Without Pietsch, one of the team's top scoring threats, Clark said his Lumberjacks tired in a game they never led.

Trailing 1-0 at halftime, Esko's Alex DeRocher tied it, followed later by Liberian-born Richmond Seju's strike to make it 2-2. And it wasn't until Italian foreign exchange student Domenico Tomaselli's penalty kick tally with five minutes remaining that the Lumberjacks sent it into overtime.

There, tied 3-3 -- as the Lumberjacks' stamina slowed in the wet, muddy field conditions -- Hawks forward Kori Ochs scored for the third time, beating CEC's Halen Danielson midway through the extra session and marking his hat trick for the day.

"It was a fantastic high school soccer game," said Clark of their season-ending loss to sixth-seeded Hermantown, which will play in tonight's 7A final with Chisago Lakes Area. "We rallied, but when you play a guy short, you get pretty tired. To tell you the truth, I've never been more proud of a team. It didn't work out this year, but hopefully we will gain from it."

CEC, which finished 10-6-1, gained everything from captains DeRocher, Ben Vuicich and Brandt Straub. All three will graduate this spring, but won't soon forget their careers wearing purple.

"We left it all on the field," Vuicich, a midfielder, said.

"We've been playing with each other for years," added Straub, a defender. "In a blink, we were done, but it was just nice to see that Lumberjacks sign across from me a last time."

Tomaselli said this fall was a time he'll cherish forever.

"To be a part of this team was the best experience in my life," said Tomaselli, who was named an All-State forward. "I'll never forget all the time we spent together -- it was unforgettable."

DeRocher, a varsity midfielder for three years, agreed.

"I couldn't ask for better teammates to grow up with," he said. "It's hard to lose, especially in overtime. But it's also hard to know I won't be able to put on a CEC soccer jersey."