Lakeland Union High School has been hot as of late on the soccer pitch and it had a chance to continue that trend with two non-conference games on Thursday and Friday.
The Thunderbirds managed to win both of those games against Iron Mountain and Washburn, winning all three of its games during the week and four out of the last five.
After a slow start to the season, Lakeland is now 6-3-1 in its last 10 games, which is crucial heading into the final week of the regular season.
Lakeland 2, Iron Mountain 1
In the second game of the season, Iron Mountain defeated Lakeland in a tournament at Rhinelander.
At the time, the T-Birds were inexperienced and injury-riddled and Iron Mountain used its physical style of play to control the game.
Lakeland knew it would be in for a fight Thursday on the road, but two early goals from Brandon Boh and Kieran Mullen helped it hold on for the win.
"We had chances, they had chances, they're very aggressive counter-attacking team and we had lots of fun," LUHS head coach Jim Mullen said. "We were little under-manned. Collin (Quade) stepped into the back four and did a really nice job. Sam (Hiller) stepped into the holding midfielder role, along with Brandon (Boh). These guys really came at us so that really helped shore up things. Kyle Bankston was moved up from the JV team and he did a really nice job."
Lakeland is gaining confidence rapidly and could be a dangerous team come playoff time.
Among the many differences from the last game on Aug. 25, the T-Birds played with much more passion this time around.
"We played with a little more conviction, a little more passion," Mullen said. "We had a really nice temperature to play and guys were just playing hard. We still had some breakdowns unfortunately, that only cost us once. We still have some things to clean up, but I think overall, the guys that played, played as well as they could have. It was a solid effort."
Lakeland 4, Washburn 0
With a quick turnaround the next night, Lakeland played at home in its third game in four days.
The T-Birds were simply dominant despite that fact, as they cruised to a well-earned victory.
"We moved the ball well, we possessed a lot of the play, it was solid," Mullen said. "Both teams were tired. We played yesterday, they played yesterday. It was not as much hard, physical play. It was more possession, more running off the ball, with shorter runs. Kyle Bankston ended up starting for us up top and he did a nice a job. He reads the play well, he gets into good supporting positions. We were moving the ball up front. Brandon (Boh) and Sam (Hiller) were playing a double-holding midfielder thing and trying to alternate sliding into the attack and that's been working well."
Hiller scored the first goal of the game off a deflection on an assist from Boh. He would strike again for the score goal after Justin Evenhouse put the ball in a playable area.
Kieran Mullen scored the third goal on a 30-yard bomb, thanks to an assist from Luci Boyer, and Mason Holmquist got some time as a forward in the second half and scored the fourth goal, assisted by Boh.
Holmquist playing up gave Vincent Strong some time as the goalkeeper and he was able to make some strong saves to preserve the shutout.
"I think the biggest thing is that we've had more ball possession," coach Mullen said. "Kieran's able to possess the ball and now he's running better. Before he was able to possess the ball, but he still couldn't run as well as he's capable of. Now he's able to run more at pace, which breaks down the defense for us. It's contagious. Once you get a little confidence, then you get more confidence. Tonight could have easily been 8-0."
Lakeland is cruising at the moment and it has a big game at Mosinee and it's the last game before the playoff seeding meeting.
"We're kind of trying to make a claim that now that we have Kieran back and we can play solid against Mosinee, even though those teams ahead of us have a better record, we're playing better ball and can squeeze out a home game in the first round," Mullen said.
Lakeland (7-10-2) plays at Mosinee tonight at 7 p.m.
Nick Sabato may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @SabatoNick.