Cliches are common, but the players who live up to them are rare. Wednesday night, it was Wisconsin goalkeeper Moriba Atiba Baker who “shook off” and weathered a painful shoulder injury, caused while making a phenomenal diving save late in the game, to propel the Badgers to a 2-2 tie against the Marquette Golden Eagles.
“I asked him right away [if he was okay],” senior captain Scott Repa said. “Sometimes when he is hurt he likes to stay in there. In the end, he seemed to be okay though.”
After making the diving grab, Baker remained on the ground for less than a minute. However, for his teammates, and the large crowd of fans gathered, those seconds might have well been hours or longer. Everyone knew that, potentially, the game’s outcome was on the line.
But Badger fans needn’t have worried. Baker, coming off a 2-0 victory over TCU in which he had a career high nine saves, persevered. In fact, Baker not only resumed play without coming out of the game, but his series of spectacular saves in the second overtime period may have made the difference between a tie and a loss to the Badger’s bitter interstate rival.
“We got the word out that he was okay,” UW head coach Kalekeni Banda said. “I said [to him], ‘Take your time, while we get a breather.'”
However, Baker reluctantly admitted later, that he wasn’t perfectly all right, and that he still suffered from pain in his shoulder throughout the remainder of the game. Yet, Baker added, if his injury escaped much notice, he must have performed all right.
Soccer is a team game though, and all credit can’t be given to one man. Conservative coaching and stellar defensive play also contributed to the shutdown of Marquette’s offense.
The Golden Eagles scored both of their goals fairly early in the night on a beautiful lob at 29:24 in the first half and on a perfect header at 37:16. Then, Baker and the Wisconsin defense took over. Banda substituted defensive players into the game, and the aggressiveness and intensity were raised. Repa and the rest of the Wisconsin backfield clogged the middle and, with the assistance of senior forward Aaron Lauber, took control.
“We definitely wanted to come out in the second half and establish ourselves physically,” Repa said. “I think we responded well.”
And when Marquette did get those opportunities to score and win, Baker, and his sore left shoulder, were in the game to respond and stop them.
“Our team showed some progress,” Repa said. “As long as we can come out and not lose and build character, that is important to us too.”
Obviously not all clich?s, including, “Winning is the only thing,” apply here.