ND 'Underdogs' resume state title quest today

Friday, November 20, 2009 ~ Updated 12:03 AM
Notre Dame's Taylor Essner dribbles against Central's Michael Denmark in a game earlier this season. The Bulldogs are just one win away from Saturday's Class 2 championship game.

TIM BRUMITT
Special to the Southeast Missourian

One team sticks out after a quick glance at the records of the four teams involved in the Class 2 boys soccer final four.

Notre Dame's 12 losses are seven more than St. Dominic and Bolivar and eight more than Helias. But that doesn't mean Notre Dame coach Brad Wittenborn thinks his team will be overmatched.

"We're probably the underdog going up there," he said. "The other teams all have much better records this year than we have. But we kind of enjoy that, the underdog role. All I know is we'll go up there and we'll play hard from the first whistle to the last. We'll hang in there."

Notre Dame senior Ke-Ke Kellum would prefer the other three teams count out the Bulldogs. He wants to be considered the underdog.

"I like going in as the underdog and proving people wrong," he said. "You've got more to play for. I think that's probably the theme of our season -- proving people wrong."

Notre Dame senior Ethan Huber does a flip throw Thursday, November 12, 2009, againswt Bishop DuBourg during the Class 2 quarterfinal in Farmington. (Kit Doyle)

It's difficult to consider a team making its fourth consecutive trip to the final four an underdog, but that's the case with Notre Dame. The Bulldogs enter today's 11 a.m. semifinal against Bolivar with a 15-12 record, while the Liberators are 22-5. Helias (14-4-1) and St. Dominic (21-5), the teams that played for the state title last year with St. Dominic prevailing, play in the other semifinal. The winners will play for the state title at noon Saturday, while the losers will play for third place at 11 a.m. Saturday. All the games will be played at the Anheuser-Busch Center in Fenton, Mo.

"Probably the last two or three teams we've played have been a little bigger and stronger and faster than us, but we just had a way of hanging in there," Wittenborn said. "I thought watching the games that you could see it in our kids' eyes. They expected something good was going to happen for them and that they were going to win the game. Then they went out and made that something good happen. It's been a great run."

Junior forward Matt Magana leads Bolivar's offensive attack with 36 goals and 19 assists. His goal total is five short of Notre Dame's team total for the season. Senior midfielder Bradley Stillwagon tallied 21 goals and 18 assists for the Liberators this season.

Seniors Jake Pewitt and Joe Froemsdorf lead Notre Dame's offense with 12 goals and nine assists apiece. Sophomore Jonathan Lynch has added nine goals and one assist.

The Bulldogs like to use Pewitt's speed to create offensive chances.

Notre Dame senior Ethan Huber does a flip throw Thursday, November 12, 2009, againswt Bishop DuBourg during the Class 2 quarterfinal in Farmington. (Kit Doyle)

"I just put it in a space and let him run onto it," Froemsdorf said. "He has the speed to get to the balls. Even if he doesn't have the touch to put it in, I think he can beat the keepers and beat the defenders with his speed."

One secret weapon for the Bulldogs is senior Ethan Huber's flip throw. He gets a running start then flips over and hurls the ball into the middle of the field. Notre Dame often uses it when it gets a throw-in deep in the opposition's territory.

"I used to take gymnastics for a long time, and I saw one kid do it in gymnastics," Huber said. "He threw it a long way, the whole building. So I could do flips and stuff, so three or four years ago I just said, 'I'm going to try it.' I tried it, and I threw pretty good.

"Last year at one practice, I'm like, 'Coach, watch this,' and I did it and asked, 'Can I do this?' He said, 'Yeah, you can.'"

Huber said the Bulldogs aren't worried about records or what anyone thinks of their chances. He said they're only concerned about their own confidence level heading into today's semifinal.

Notre Dame senior Ethan Huber does a flip throw Thursday, November 12, 2009, againswt Bishop DuBourg during the Class 2 quarterfinal in Farmington. (Kit Doyle)

"I'm pretty sure everybody thinks we can win on our team," he said. "We're going in there like we are going to win."

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