By BEN MCCARTY
News staff writer
September 30, 2006
Nathan Ponce dove to his right, his jersey skimming the Delta Park turf.
The ball came spiraling out of the warm early autumn air from the foot of a Central Catholic forward through the clouds of gnats now circling over the pitch like miniature vultures awaiting the end of an undefeated run by the Hood River boys’ soccer team, and toward an open hole between the goalkeeper and the white right post of the goal.
As the ball streaked towards the Hood River goalkeeper, a 1-1 score, and the team’s hope of a Conference title hung in the balance as seconds ticked away from the 69th minute of the match.
Arms upraised, Central Catholic players skipped across the field in celebration.
With a barely perceptible sound, the ball nestled against fabric.
Ponce rose from the ground, the ball held between his keeper gloves and pink jersey.
The celebrating died out as quickly as it had begun, and the Ram’s would not find a better chance to break the deadlock in the second half of Tuesday’s match.
“If I see the ball coming to one side I just dive to that side,” Ponce said of his reaction to the shot that would have broken the game open for Central Catholic.
Central Catholic and Hood River made the journey to Delta Park in Portland as the only undefeated teams in the Mt. Hood Conference, having combined to outscore their opponents 43-2. After 80 minutes of back and forth play in which both teams were unable to take advantage of their limited scoring opportunities in the second half, they left Delta Park still the only undefeated teams in the conference with a 1-1 draw.
Hood River took an early lead in the 2nd minute when Diego Diaz buried a booming shot from 20 yards out in the top left corner of the net, to put Hood River up 1-0, and leave Central Catholic trailing for the first time this season.
“I try everything (to score),” Diaz said of his long-distance goal. “I’m certainly happy I scored that goal because it helped us a lot.”
However, the lead would not last long as Central Catholic struck back with a shot from the left side of the goal box that buried itself in the bottom right of the Hood River goal, beyond Ponce’s reach.
“They put us on our heels early but we battled back after that first goal,” Central Catholic Coach Steve Anchetta said after the game of his team’s effort to avoid the loss.
In the 27th minute of the match the stadium lights came to life with a buzzing hum, as though the setting sun had hurled a rock at an angry hive of bees before being swallowed by the Pacific. As the sun’s orange glow vanished and gave way to a starry sky, scoring chances for either team began to fade just as rapidly.
After Central Catholic evened the score, the only real scoring chance either team had before the halftime klaxon warbled was a shot by Central Catholic from the left corner of the field that missed wide right by several feet just seconds before the half ended.
In the 43rd minute Nestor Barrera worked himself free inside the Central Catholic goal box, but the Ram defenders were able to boot the ball away before Hood River could get a shot off.
In the 37th minute Central Catholic had a forward breakaway and was left one-one-one with Ponce only to be called for offside just before he sent the ball flying into the net. Both teams matched up evenly, with enough speed and strength to counter the other side’s attacks while occasionally pushing the ball up field.
In the first half the ball went back and fourth with just over half of play going on in Central Catholic territory. In the opening of the second half, other than the one attack by Barrera, much of the action was on the Hood River side for the first 10 minutes, while the following 10 minutes were concentrated in the Central Catholic side. Beyond those swings, much of the action went on in the center of the pitch, with both sides trying to crack the other team’s defense.
Hood River Coach Doug Beveridge credited the Rams’ toughness and the artificial surface of the Delta Park fields for slowing down the Eagle offense.
“The surface was a big factor,” Beveridge said. “We just couldn’t get any weight on our passes.”
In the 52nd minute, Moe Bruckman sent a high curling shot from the right corner that the Central Catholic goalkeeper was able to stop with a leaping grab.
After Ponce took away Central Catholic’s best scoring chance in the 69th minute, the Eagles had one more scoring chance when Ceasar Hernandez attempted a sliding shot on the ball that went just wide right of the Central Catholic goal. In the 71st minute Central Catholic had the last real opportunity to score in the match but the shot was wide left by at least 10 feet.
Barrera was glad to see that the Eagles could stack up with one of the top teams in the conference, and that they left Portland without a loss. “They gave us a good game today,” Barrerra said. “We’re glad just to head home with our heads up.”
Both coaches agreed that the regular season conference champion could be determined when the two teams meet again in Hood River on Oct. 19.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Anchetta said. “Hopefully it will be again down the road when we meet in October.”
Beveridge echoed those sentiments, saying, “I feel good about the game because they are a good team. It will probably come down to the game at our place.”
The lights in Delta Park continued to blaze long after both teams had left the field, and for the Eagles and the Rams so did the hope of an undefeated run to the state playoffs.
Both teams kept that hope alive with wins on Thursday with Hood River beating Sandy 3-1 behind goals by Diaz, Moe Bruckman and Raul Marquez while Central Catholic beat Reynolds 3-0.
The Eagles next take on the David Douglas Royal Scots at home next Tuesday.