RAPID CITY — A Gavin Fortner shot with 3:45 to play spun out of the goalkeeper’s hands and into the net, breaking a tie and giving Yankton a 3-2 victory over Rapid City Stevens in the semifinals of the South Dakota Class AA Boys’ Soccer Playoffs, Monday at Sioux Park in Rapid City.
Yankton, 14-1-1, awaits the winner of today’s (Tuesday) Washington-O’Gorman match. The Bucks played Stevens (12-3) a day early due to expected poor weather conditions in Rapid City today.
Less than 24 hours removed from a shootout victory over Rapid City Central, the Bucks were informed the match would be moved from today to Monday. Not long after, the team was on the bus headed to Rapid City.
Yankton showed little wear from the previous 48 hours early on, as Milo Johnson buried a shot less than a minute into the match for a 1-0 Bucks lead.
Part of what set up Johnson’s goal came before the match, according to Bucks head coach Dave Dannenbring.
“We changed the midfield formation thanks to our committee of coaches,” he said. “Dan Hansen, who works with these kids in the summer, came up with the idea to move up Milo, one of our best defensive midfielders, to exploit one of their weaknesses.”
The goal, the first of the season for Johnson, came as a shock.
“Two people missed the ball and it came back to me. I took it (the shot), and it went in,” he said. “When I scored, I didn’t think I had scored right away. It took a few seconds to run through my head that I had scored a goal.”
The Bucks’ second goal, which came with 15:28 left in the half, came on the heels of another adjustment.
“We had been rotating our strikers and our wings because we were asking a lot from them, for them to press and get back,” Dannenbring said. “Sam Huber and Brady Blom did a good job of coming in and making plays.”
Huber found himself on a breakaway, and knew what he would do with it.
“When I got the ball, I was going to go right to the corner,” he said. “I have to thank my teammates for playing me amazing balls.”
The Bucks kept Stevens at bay the rest of the half, taking a 2-0 lead into the break.
“Our boys did everything we talked about in meetings,” Dannenbring said. “We were disciplined and, our number one goal, we out-hustled them. We took their speed and their outside guys out of the game because of great play by Zach Hebda, Gavin Fortner and Sam Herbert.”
Stevens broke through in the second half, as Zach Williams got loose for a goal. Seven minutes later, Levi Busching scored off a rebound of a Williams shot to tie the match.
“When you play a good team like Stevens, they’re going to make some good plays. And that’s what they did,” Dannenbring said. “It’s hard to keep that intensity that is out of your comfort zone for a full 80 minutes.”
The Bucks regrouped, keeping Stevens off the board the rest of the way.
“We kept telling ourselves that we had to keep our heads up, keep fighting,” Fortner said. “It was a little shake at points, but I couldn’t be more proud of our team.”
With 3:45 left to play, Fortner’s shot spun out of the goalkeeper’s grasp and across the goal line, gving the Bucks the lead.
“I just put it on target and see what happens,” Fortner said. “That’s now how I imagined it would go in, but I’m glad that it did.”
Zach Loest finished with seven saves in goal for Yankton.
“Loest was clutch on some key saves,” Dannenbring said of the senior goalkeeper.
Yankton now turns its attentions to Saturday’s championship match at Howard Wood Field in Sioux Falls. This will mark the first time that the Bucks will play for a state title under the South Dakota High School Activities Association banner after winning two during the “club high school” days.
“We need to focus, keep our heads, come out fast and score early,” Huber said. “We gotta show out for the hometown, prove some people wrong.”
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