Coming off a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to Class 4A East contender Laramie and an equally frustrating 2-1 loss to 4A West Conference foe Rock Springs, Natrona saw an opportunity to right the ship against rival Kelly Walsh on Friday.
Kelly Walsh saw the momentum of a three-game win streak slow significantly with a contested scoreless draw at Green River on Tuesday and walked onto the pitch at the Tom Staffelino Activities Complex determined to solidify its spot as the team to beat in the 4A West.
What transpired for 100 minutes after the opening whistle was nothing short of an early-season classic that solidified both sides and the West Conference as a whole.
Ben Radosevich scored the game-winner in the 87th minute when the ball ricocheted to his feet in the box and he found the empty net, giving the Mustangs a 2-1 come-from-behind victory in overtime.
“It was an exciting game,” Natrona head coach Chad Miller said. “Kelly Walsh is a very good team. They scored first but we showed a lot of heart and came back for the win, so I’m happy with the result.”
It was Radosevich’s first goal of the season, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Mustangs.
The possession battle was nearly 50-50 in the first half but the Trojans had the better opportunities, tallying three shots on goal before the opening score in the 22nd minute.
Kelly Walsh’s lone goal was a source of pride on a night of missed opportunities. The Trojans managed 13 shots, six on goal and two missed chip shots in one-on-one opportunities.
“I’m really proud of my kids, they played hard,” Kelly Walsh head coach Bryan Chadderdon said. “It was a tough one but they got that one right at the end of the first part of overtime and they were hustling too.”
Natrona answered 7 minutes later when Diaz scored his 16th goal of the season. Diaz, much like Kelly Walsh, had more chances to score but couldn’t find the finishing touch.
The following 51 minutes were scoreless but far from boring. Both teams traded shots and runs, testing both goalkeepers for the duration of regulation.
“These guys want to win,” Chadderdon said. “Both teams are playing hard, playing physical and as the physicality gets amped up, the passion gets amped up a little bit so every little thing is amplified.”
Natrona’s Tanner Conley made five saves for the Mustangs while Kelly Walsh keeper Teldon Zimmershied made seven for the Trojans.
Kelly Walsh had an opportunity to tie in the final 5 seconds, but the corner was headed away and the final horn sounded before the Trojans could direct the rebound on net.
It was a breakthrough win for Natrona (5-3-0) that could set the tone for the rest of the season.
“We can’t tell you how excited we are to start winning,” Radosevich said. “It has been so hard. Last year, with all our potential and not pulling through. This year it’s so much better.”
For Kelly Walsh, which hadn’t lost since the season opener against Sheridan (also in overtime), Friday’s match was a learning experience in finishing attacks.
While the two teams might be on different paths, Friday’s game validated the strengths of both sides. It also served as an exciting preview for the Casper Cup in three weeks.