HOOD RIVER — The Hood River Valley boys soccer team got a break last Saturday when the Crater Comets defeated No. 9-ranked Grant.
Crater’s 1-0 win not only meant the Eagles’ third-round state playoff opponent wouldn’t be a No. 1 seed. It also guaranteed HRV another home game.
Anyone familiar with HRV soccer knows it’s all about the home-field advantage. And coming into Tuesday’s game with Crater, HRV was 13-2-1 over the past two seasons at Westside Field.
Make that 14-2-1.
The Eagles took full advantage of their home field yet again, defeating Crater, 4-1, to move to the Class 4A state quarterfinals for the third straight year.
“We want to go to the finals this year,” said senior striker Alexander Ponce, who will lead the Eagles against Jesuit today at 2 p.m. in Portland.
“A lot of us have been to the quarters, so we’re pretty relaxed this time. I think that if we just play our game and push them around a bit, they will eventually break,” he said.
In order to get past the Metro League’s No. 1 seed, HRV will rely on the firepower of Ponce and his four playoff goals (22 total), plus the complimentary offensive skills of Obed Garduño and Jorge Hernandez, who scored two goals on Tuesday.
The defense will also need to be on its game to beat the Crusaders, whose only loss of the season came during the preseason against Sheldon (11-1-2 overall).
“Their backs are pretty good and they have one center midfielder who is strong,” Ponce said. “But they are a young team overall, which should help us.”
By the same token, HRV is a relatively experienced side, returning seven key players from last year’s quarterfinal team.
That experience showed on Tuesday as the Eagles took a 2-0 lead into halftime and extended it to 3-0 midway through the second half. Crater got one back at the 25-minute mark to make things interesting.
But junior Ricardo Muñoz buried his first playoff goal with roughly 2 minutes to play, giving HRV a three-goal lead and plenty of momentum heading into today’s game.
“I think we may have declared victory too early,” Ponce said. “Even when they scored, we thought we could hold them for the final 15 minutes. But they had a lot of heart and stepped up the intensity late in the game.”
Ponce credited senior goalkeeper Julio Loza for an outstanding effort, and said he hopes the Eagles don’t have to panic against Jesuit.
“The only time we’ve been behind this season was against Redmond,” he said. “So I don’t know how we would react if we got down by two goals. I don’t think that will happen, though. We’re too composed this year.”
Junior defenders Sean Rawson and Alvaro Lara have played superb attacking defense during HRV’s first two playoff games. The defense has also benefitted from stellar play by outside backs Miguel Najera and Jesús Lara.
The Eagles have only surrendered one goal in the first two rounds of the playoffs. However, besides Redmond, they haven’t seen a team with the firepower of the Crusaders.
“We’re going to be tested for sure,” Ponce said. “But I have heard that a big part of Jesuit’s core graduated last year. They are a pretty young team, which plays into our favor. I think that if we just play smart, we can take ‘em.”
A win today would give HRV and coach Doug Beveridge their first-ever berth in the state semifinals. The HRV-Jesuit winner will play the Central Catholic-South Medford winner Tuesday on the road. The finals are scheduled for next Saturday at Tigard High School. But for now, HRV is going to focus on beating Jesuit.
“This is probably the biggest game of my life so far,” Ponce said.