VERNON - Heading into a showdown with the Maplewood Rockets on Thursday afternoon, the Badger Braves were excited.
The Braves beat the Rockets earlier in the season - Maplewood's only conference loss to that point - and the return leg had big implications. The Braves could eliminate a Northeastern Athletic Conference title rival with a win, a fact that didn't escape the Braves.
"We'd been getting real prepared for this game," Badger forward Joe Gorospe said. "Every day in practice we were working hard. We were real excited. Today at school, we had been talking about it. We came out ready."
Perhaps no Brave was more ready for the match than Gorospe, as the forward torched the Rockets for four goals to help Badger take a big step toward another conference crown with a 7-1 rout of Maplewood at Badger High School. Gorospe scored two goals in the first 30 minutes and added another two early in the second half.
The forward set the tone in the 11th minute, scoring the opening goal for Badger (11-1, 9-0 NAC) when the Rockets (8-2-2, 6-2-1 NAC) couldn't clear a corner completely. After a couple of blocked shots, Gorospe created enough space to send a shot into the back of the net.
He proceeded to score three more goals, including the team's last one in the 62nd minute off a Colton Kellogg free kick from midfield. Badger coach Justin Deraway said Gorospe looked to score more than he had for much of the season.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Badger’s Joe Gorospe looks to score his second goal of Thursday’s game against Maplewood. Gorospe had four goals in the Braves’ 7-1 victory.
"He has an excellent first touch," Deraway said. "He's going to keep the ball close to him, and today, he looked for his shot a lot more than he has in recent games. Normally, he tries to be more of a facilitator, but he was really ready for Maplewood.
"He was really looking for his own goal."
His biggest goal came early in the second half, when Maplewood seemed to get back into the match.
The Rockets cut Badger's lead to 3-1 in the 45th minute when Paul Kellar converted a penalty kick, giving Maplewood hope with 35 minutes remaining.
Gorospe squashed that hope less than 2 minutes later on a counterattack. Christian Swartz put Gorospe alone on net, and the forward dribbled around Maplewood goalkeeper Stephen Pop before slotting it home.
"Biggest thing we always talk about is a response goal," Deraway said. "If we give up a goal, we have to respond quickly and turn the tide back in our favor. We always try to respond quickly, and once we do, we try to keep the pressure up because that's the best time to add on."
That goal seemed to deflate the Rockets, and they gave up two more in a 13-minute span following the Gorospe goal. Maplewood's next best chance to score came in the 78th minute with another penalty kick, but George Kirby blocked Kellar's attempt.
Maplewood coach Rich Perkins said his team made a few mistakes and had to deal with injuries, but he admitted Badger was the better team on the day.
"After that PK and they got a couple of goals, we deflated," Perkins said. "I don't think we played our best game. That's nothing to take away from Badger - they're a good team."
As for Badger, Deraway said this performance showed that his team is what they expected it to be before the start of the season - a team that could make a deep run in the tournament.
"Before the season started, the team set the goal of a district championship," Deraway said. "I feel that making the district championship would be great. That being said, if we fall short, it wouldn't be a disappointment for the team."