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Saved by the Berg: Keeper steps up as Austin wins it’s fourth straight Section 1A title

ST CHARLES – Casey Berg wasn’t going to let it happen again.

Berg was as clutch as he could be, making two shootout saves in a 2-1 victory over Dover-Eyota in the Section 1A title game Wednesday night.

The win gives the Packers (13-0-1 overall) their fourth straight Section 1A title. The team also won its fourth straight Big Nine title this year.

“I used last year as motivation to get better and I know a lot of the other guys did as well,” Berg said. “We all weren’t going to let it happen again this year. We all feel a sense of closure. We would love to have state of course, but this is the next best thing. To do it with this group of guys is amazing.”

The Eagles (14-1 overall) tied the game at 1-1 when McKray Tuma connected on a penalty kick with 7:55 left in regulation. Neither team scored in the 20-minute overtime session, but the Eagles nearly scored with one minute left in the second OT session. 

Luckily for Berg, who had 14 saves, Gree Ha was in the right place at the right time as he deflected a solid shot away from under the goal.

“I always go to that post. I just saw the ball come to me and I got it out of the way,” Ha said of the play.

Ha also scored Austin’s final goal in the shootout on a shot that deflected off DE keeper Anthony Swenson’s hand.  It cements a solid career for Ha that was kickstarted when he teamed up with Berg to win a U15 state youth soccer title three summers ago.

Ha, a senior, has built up a strong connection with Berg over the years. 

“The bond is very strong. We’ve been together since U13. Casey is like my brother. We work hard together and we’ve improved together,” Ha said. “Tonight we played as a team, we believed in each other and we did it how Austin does it. I was very nervous on the PK. I didn’t expect the keeper to touch it.”

Austin went four-for-four in the shootout as Billy Macias, Zach Smith and Jose Valladares all made good on their chances. Andres Garcia would’ve been the fifth shooter, as Mr. Soccer candidate Henry Tolbert wasn’t able to kick in the shootout after battling an injury for much of the night.

After several off-side violations in the first half, the Packers finally broke through when Andres Garcia ran past the DE defense for a score to make it 1-0 just three minutes into the second half.

From that point on, the game was a battle that saw both teams put together solid stretches.

Berg said the Eagles certainly gained his respect.

“They were a lot better than we expected and that’s no offense to them, they just didn’t play the best opponents,” Berg said. “We heard they were good, but they were even better than we expected. I think we played really well and so did they. It was just a great game and it could’ve gone either way.”

The Packers will graduate a big senior class that was crucial to the program’s success over the past four seasons. Austin head coach Jens Levisen said they will be tough to replace.

“I think it’s always been in the back of their mind that they don’t want to be the first group to get that loss (in the section tournament),” Levisen said. “We’ve also had some young guys and they’ve tried to push them up and lift them up.”

Although the Packers are finishing 2020 with their only undefeated season in school history, Levisen still isn’t going to change his mind on shootouts.

“I hate PKs, whether we win or lose,” Levisen said. “I hate PKs.”