WALES, Wis. — Luis Pedroza paid no mind to the din created by several hundred super-charged fans at Kettle Moraine High School Saturday night.
Pedroza had a job to do, and all that was riding on it was the first trip to state in the history of his Beloit Memorial soccer team.
The Knights and Lasers had played 90 minutes of regulation, followed by 20 minutes of overtime, with exactly nothing decided. The score was 1-1, the game looked as though it would go on forever if not left up to the devices of a shootout.
While Pedroza had stopped two of the first three Laser kicks, Beloit converted all three of its opportunities.
Leading 3-1 with just two shooters left, Beloit needed only a goal or one more stop by Pedroza. As Kettle Moraine’s Drew Winkowski approached the ball, it was as if someone had pressed the mute button in Pedroza’s ear drum.
Aware of just Winkowski, the ball and his immediate surroundings, Pedroza made his read as the Laser made his approach.
The next sound was deafening, even to the senior goalkeeper: THUMP! Pedroza had made his third save.
With that, a wild celebration ensued.
Beloit Memorial, a former afterthought in the WIAA soccer world, was headed to state. Kettle Moraine, with its rich tradition, perfectly manicured field and disbelief on their faces, had its season end.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a goalkeeper make three saves like that in that situation,” Beloit coach Brian Denu said. “I’ve seen where a few guys might miss high or wide, but to have a keeper save three like that...it’s amazing. He’s the hero, and a big-game player who thrives in that kind of stuff.”
Amazing would have been a good description for the play of Pedroza, whose nine saves in regulation and overtime included an acrobatic, fully-outstretched diving save of a goal that would have put the Knights down 2-0 in the second half.
Pedroza said confidence is one of the keys to performing the high-pressure task.
“At that point, the most important thing is to trust your instinct,” Pedroza said. “I don’t doubt myself or second-guess myself because it messes you up. I love penalty kicks. They are my favorite thing to block.’
Forward Jose Barron played a critical role in the victory for the Knights.
The Lasers got on the board first when the ball deflected off of Pedroza, leaving an open net for Nick Zuchowski, who put it in with 16 minutes to play in the first half to make it 1-0.
Barron then took a free kick, somehow got the ball back immediatley and scored to tie the game with 31 minutes to play in regulation.
“That’s something we practice a lot,” Barron said. “I do the free kick, a teammate pretends he’s going to go after it and then I end up with it.”
Barron was Denu’s selection to shoot the first penalty kick, and he was rewarded with a goal to the corner of the net, putting Beloit up 1-0.
“In that situation you just have to pick a spot and make him react,” Barron said. “We’ve been practicing penalty kicks every day because we knew it was going to come to this. It feels amazing.”
Nick Orne then scored for Kettle Moraine, but Ricardo “Chino” Ramos made it 2-1 Beloit with a solid shot.
Pedroza then stopped Chris Hooper, and Jose Guitierrez put the Knights on the precipice of a title with a goal that established the 3-1 advantage.
“I noticed he was diving to the left every single time,” Gutierrez said. “So as long as I put it up on the other side, above his chest, he’s not going to be able to make it.”
The Knights (20-2-6) will take on Menominee Falls (18-3-3) Friday at 7 p.m. at Time Warner Cable Stadium at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee.
“It feels incredible right now,” Pedroza said. “I always knew we were going to make it ever since my freshman year. Our goal was always to make it to state and win state, and we’re almost there fre now. This team is my family. I love them.”
While Denu might not have shared the outlandish faith of his goalkeeper, but he figured this was going to be a special season when the team convened in August.
“It took six years to finally get in the place we wanted to,” Denu said. “I felt like we’d be really good this year, but going to state is like the icing on the cake. We have such great kids and it’s amazing to see it come together like this.”
BMHS goalie Luis Pedroza was a wall in the shootout.
Beloit Memorial's Jose Gutierrez controls the ball against Kettle Moraine Saturday night.