Marinette’s Noah Cegelski takes aim at the net during the Marines’ North Eastern Conference game against Wrightstown on Tuesday in Marinette.

EagleHerald Sports Editor

MARINETTE—Twenty seconds proved to be all that stood between victory and defeat for the Marinette boys soccer team in a 3-2 loss to Wrightstown in North Eastern Conference play on Tuesday.

With the Tigers (3-3 NEC, 10-7-1 overall) holding a 2-1 lead in late in the second half, Dominic Smerchek used his head, literally, to tie the game with a header-goal with eleven minutes and 43 seconds left to play.

Just as quickly as Marinette (3-3 NEC, 7-7-1 overall) equalized the score, Wrightstown took the advantage right back.

The Tigers managed to sneak a high, arching shot into the right corner of Marinette’s net with 11:23 remaining, giving Wrightstown a one-goal lead they held until the final whistle.

“We expected to come in here and win our last regular-season home game, so to be honest we’re a little disappointed,” Marinette coach Jason Smerchek said. “We came up a little short today but our guys were out there hustling. Goals tend to come in bunches and sure enough, we score a second goal to get back into it and 20 seconds later we’re back in a pickle. It’s really a little bit of a lack of concentration but our kids played hard. We had one of our defenders out, so we had to switch things around and when you have people playing out of position, it’s not as fluid as you would like.”

Marinette was in control of much of the first half, holding Wrightstown to no shots-on-goal until just over eight minutes remaining. The Marines held the first-half edge in corner-kicks as well, attempting three while Wrightstown had none.

The Marines grabbed the lead at the 33:14 mark but Wrightstown equalized on a goal from Marek Burton to tie the game at 1-1 entering halftime.

Coach Smerchek said Marinette’s youth played a factor in the swing of momentum in the second half.

“We’d get numbers forward and then play a direct ball out of the back, and Wrightstown has some quick guys up there and we got caught a little short-handed,” he said. “A couple of times we lost the ball in the midfield and we kept giving the ball away. We have a lot of young guys on this team, so part of that is a learning process.”

Marinette honored its three seniors, Keegan Polomis, Noah Cegelski and Robbie Hruska, with a halftime ceremony and after the game coach Smerchek spoke of all three players’ importance to Marines soccer.

“Those three have scored half of our goals this year, and Robbie is the captain of our defense. He’s just a rock back there. He provides us with speed, covers a lot of ground and cleans up a lot of mistakes for us,” he said. “Keegan is great with the ball. His stamina is off the charts. That kid can run and run and run. Noah’s a special player. He’s a dynamic player that traditionally has one, if not two, guys watching him defensively. He’s arguably the best player in our conference. They leave some big shoes to fill for next year.”

The Marines are the No. 7 seed in the WIAA State tournament and will host No. 10 Winneconne in the Division 3 regional opener on Thursday. It’s Marinette’s first home playoff contest since 2016, when the Marines defeated Denmark 11-1 in the regional opener.

Thursday’s playoff game begins at 4 p.m.

“We’re really looking forward to hosting a home playoff game and we really appreciate the support of anyone that’s willing to come out and watch. We haven’t had a home playoff game in quite some time, so it would be great if we can pack the house and show support for these kids,” coach Smerchek said.