Longtime Hill-Murray boys hockey coach Bill Lechner has a motto: “It’s always 70 and sunny.”
The Pioneers boys soccer team has adopted that as their mantra as well, even on nights like Tuesday when the weather is anything but.
A chilly late October downpour didn’t slow down senior midfielder Jacob Dinzeo and his teammates as No. 2 seed Hill-Murray scored five second-half goals en route to downing unseeded Mahtomedi 6-2 in a Class 2A state boys quarterfinal at White Bear Lake Area High School’s North Campus Stadium.
“I love it,” Dinzeo — who scored his team’s final two goals — said of the weather. “Everybody on this team loves it. These are our favorite nights. It doesn’t bother us at all.”
The Pioneers (15-3-2) advance to meet the winner of today’s quarterfinal between No. 3 seed Cloquet/Esko/Carlton (16-2) and unseeded St. Cloud Tech (8-7-3) in a semifinal matchup scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 1 at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Lumberjacks/Tigers matchup is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. today at White Bear Lake. Hill-Murray was the top seed in last season’s Class 2A tournament and advanced to the final before falling 3-2 to No. 2 seed DeLaSalle.
“We’re a pretty senior-heavy group,” Pioneers coach Jeff Zupfer said. “We have 19 seniors on the roster. So I think having that maturity, and having gotten a taste of playing at U.S. Bank last year, is big. We want to get back there and have that opportunity again. We feel like we have some unfinished business.
“But we know there are some great teams still alive, so we have our work cut out for us.”
A goal by senior forward Wilfredo Vargas put the Pioneers on top 1-0, then senior goalkeeper Tayler Pinx came up with a big stop on a Mahtomedi penalty kick late in the first half to keep his team on top by one at halftime.
“He’s unbelievable on penalty kicks,” Zupfer said of Pinx. “I think out of the around seven he has faced this season, he’s probably stopped five now. When he subbed off late, I told him that play changed the momentum of the entire game.”
That certainly seemed the case as Zupfer’s team wasted no time expanding on its margin to start the second half. Goals by senior forward Vinny Pearcy and junior midfielder Kevin Roman Puchaicela in the opening minutes built the lead to three.
“We went into halftime, and it was kind of an energy boost,” said Vargas, who assisted on Pearcy’s goal. “Just being around the boys and talking about what we could do better. We talked about playing the ball wide and taking guys on, and that’s exactly what we did.”
The Zephyrs (10-8-1) finally got on the board when junior forward Mason Kipp scored with 26:15 left to play. But senior forward Ronan O’Connor had a goal and Dinzeo added two more as Hill-Murray pulled away.
Mahtomedi senior defender Ben Carlson scored a goal with 10:20 to go to cut the gap to 6-2 — matching the score when the two teams met in the regular season on Sept. 14.
“Not getting the penalty kick to tie it up going into halftime really hurt us,” Zephyrs coach Dom Isaac said. “We knew in the second half, we’d probably have to attack a little bit more. Our strength is really defending in numbers, and when you have to push for a goal, you can give up some extra offense on their end.”
That extra offense lifted Hill-Murray back into the state semifinals.
“Our other motto is ‘stay in the present,’ ” Dinzeo said. “Next game. Next practice. So right now we’re focused on recovering and getting ready for (their semifinal matchup).
“But I’d be lying if I told you (a state title) wasn’t the mission. After what happened last year, everyone has wanted to get back (to state). Now we are and everyone on this team is locked in.”
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