Verona Boys Soccer

Verona players come together following the Wildcats' 4-3 win over Hamilton in a WIAA Division 1 state semifinal on Thursday, Nov. 3, at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee.

Last year Verona didn’t respond well to a deficit in the state semifinals.

This season it fueled them.

The Verona boys soccer team rallied from a two-goal hole to earn a 4-3 victory over Sussex Hamilton in a WIAA Division 1 state semifinal match on Thursday, Nov. 3, at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee.

The second-seeded Wildcats (20-3) advance to take on top-seeded Marquette in the Division 1 state title on Saturday.

Last season Verona couldn’t overcome a goal deficit in the state semifinals in a 1-0 loss to Hudson.

“The first goal is obviously a huge downer,” said Verona senior keeper Liam Updegrove. “You immediately start thinking, can you come back from it? The whole half is super tense from that point on. Every chance is super scary.

“They got a second one and it was kind of like, oh man, I don’t know if we can do this. After the first goal we got our momentum back.”

Verona rode that momentum all the way to a 3-2 lead. Third-seeded Hamilton (13-3-5) snatched back the momentum with an equalizer in the 68th minute.

Verona senior Alex Klimm netted the eventual game-winning goal in the 72nd minute. Klimm spun past a defender and hit a hard grounder past Hamilton senior goalie Hayden Reich.

Alex Klimm

Verona's Alex Klimm surveys the defense during the Wildcats' 4-3 win over Hamilton in a WIAA Division 1 state semifinal on Thursday, Nov. 3, at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee.

Klimm led the Wildcat offense on the night with two goals and an assist.

“It’s insanely exhilarating,” Klimm said regarding his goals. “I feel great. But most of all, I’m happy we won and it wasn’t all in vain.”

Junior Alex Berlinski gave the Chargers an early lead in the first half when he lined a hard-driving shot past Updegrove 7 minutes, 32 seconds into the game.

Verona got a shot of momentum to start the second half when Updegrove made a diving save on a penalty kick in the 42nd minute. Updegrove – who finished with four saves – dove right to stop the shot.

“The only thing that gave me any indication was that he was looking a little bit right,” Updegrove said. “He wasn’t trying to make it obvious, because a lot of times people try to make it obvious and go the other way.”

Junior Jacob Unger swung the pendulum of momentum back in the Chargers’ favor when he headed a goal in the 50th minute to put Hamilton up 2-0.

Verona responded less than two minutes later in the 52nd minute when junior Cristian Flores Lopez tapped in a rebound to make it 2-1. Klimm was awarded with the assist.

Cristian Flores Lopez

Verona's Cristian Flores Lopez goes for the ball during the Wildcats' 4-3 win over Hamilton in a WIAA Division 1 state semifinal on Thursday, Nov. 3, at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee.

“Cristian came up and had that goal,” Verona head coach Dave Perkins said. “The halftime message from Brian (Vasquez) to the team was we just need one. We get that one and things start rolling and opening up. We got that one and it was like the guys got that extra belief they needed to get back in that game.”

The belief levels continued to grow when Verona perfectly executed a set piece to equalize the game in the 63rd minute.

On a free kick just outside the box, junior Connor Gage ran past the ball and toward the goal as senior Brian Vazquez then passed to Gage, who crossed it over to Klimm, who quickly netted the shot past Reich.

Brian Vazquez

Verona's Brian Vazquez battles for the ball during the Wildcats' 4-3 win over Hamilton in a WIAA Division 1 state semifinal on Thursday, Nov. 3, at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee.

“We actually have practiced that before,” Klimm said. “We haven’t executed it before, but it worked. It was perfect.”

Gage – who recently became Verona’s all-time leading scorer – then took matters into his own hands.

The junior forward got behind the Hamilton defense with his dribbling alone and fired a shot past Reich in the lower-right corner of the goal.

The score was Gage’s 32nd of the season and came in the 66th minute. It was the Wildcats’ third straight goal.

“It’s amazing having someone like Connor who you can fully trust,” Klimm said.

Connor Gage

Verona's Connor Gage (right) celebrates a goal during the Wildcats' 4-3 win over Hamilton in a WIAA Division 1 state semifinal on Thursday, Nov. 3, at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee.

Hamilton finally found its response in the 68th when junior Ryan Wrobleski flicked a shot past Updegrove to deadlock the match at 3-3.

Even after the equalizer, Klimm said he felt like Verona still had plenty of momentum stemming from the previous 3-0 run.

“We had so much momentum and energy after that (three straight goals),” Klimm said. “Yeah they scored another one against us, but if anything that brought more energy for us. Because we knew we weren’t losing today… We responded perfectly.”

Klimm scored the fourth goal in less than 10 minutes of game time in the 72nd to give the Wildcats back the lead at 4-3.

EJ Van de Grift

Verona's EJ Van de Grift reacts to a goal during the Wildcats' 4-3 win over Hamilton in a WIAA Division 1 state semifinal on Thursday, Nov. 3, at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee.

Perkins said he shifted around Klimm late in the game for a spark.

“We needed to switch things up and try getting something else going at them,” Perkins said. “He’s a kid with a lot of explosion, a lot of speed.”

Verona got a scare when a defender slipped, causing a Hamilton breakaway. Updegrove was there for the one-on-one save and then junior Jesse Ward cleared the ball away from danger.

“Liam has really stepped up his game in the playoffs,” Klimm said. “Last game he came out and was catching everything. Today, that PK save, if he wouldn’t have saved that we probably would have lost. He came to play.”

Updegrove was quick to give credit to his defenders.

“It’s the entire defense,” Updegrove said. “I barely touched it. If my defense isn’t there, it’s going into the goal.”

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