In what was the most pivotal game of the season so far, the Hood River Valley High School varsity girls soccer team went on the road Thursday to face the Pendleton Buckaroos. The 3-0 win is the fourth shutout in a row for the Eagles (3-0-1 league, 6-4-1 overall), who now hold the Columbia River Conference’s top position and a 5A No. 12 ranking.
Earlier in the week the Eagles hosted The Dalles-Wahtonka and came away with the same confidence-building result, a 3-0 win, heading into the final weeks of league play.
The No. 12 ranking means the girls are in good position to make the state playoffs, but the final two CRC games will be key in who, and where they play in the opening round of the tournament.
“The top eight ranked teams automatically qualify for the 16-team state tournament,” coach Kevin Haspela explained. “The remaining eight teams must earn their spot with a play-in game. Teams ranked 9-24 in the final frozen rankings will be matched up in the play-in round.”
Rankings are “frozen” the night of Oct. 30. If the Eagles win their next two games, they’ll likely finish around the same ranking they hold now. If they lose, they’ll drop in the ranking and face a higher-ranked team in the play-in round.
Tuesday’s shutout against The Dalles was a big improvement from the Eagles’ previous home game, which ended in a disappointing 0-0 tie in their first contest against Pendleton. Senior Korey Cimock got the girls riled up with an early goal from close in — an area of the field the team had been working on.
“We’ve been practicing staying under control in the box and making accurate shots past the keeper,” Haspela said. “She (Cimock) did just that in her one-on-one against the keeper. It is great to see players calm under pressure.”
Sophomore Sindy Magana scored a second goal for the Eagles before halftime off a loss-ball volley that arched into the upper corner of the net. The second half saw senior Collete Zack score off a long freekick.
The win gave the girls a boost going into Thursday’s game at Pendleton, which was their biggest test of the season. The two teams butted heads earlier this month in a nil-nil tie that had both sides sighing in frustration after the final whistle. This time around, though, the offensive congestion that stymied the Eagles seems to have cleared up, and the team finished with a third straight shutout win.
“The team was well composed today,” Haspela commented after the game. “The defense organized well and gave their target players little time with the ball and no opportunities to turn and dribble through the back.”
At the 25-minute mark senior captain Miga McCurdy scored off a setup by Cielo Rivera, who drew a free-kick outside the box and put the ball out of Pendleton goalie’s reach near the back post.
“At halftime we talked about making the most of our opportunities, creating quality chances with well-aimed crosses, and moving to space to create good chances,” Haspela noted. “The game was tight for the first 20 minutes of the second half. Goalie Sophia Marble made two excellent diving stops to keep the shutout intact. Soon after, Rivera scored a counterattack goal. She won a 50/50 ball, dribbled past the center back and hit a hard left footed shot near post side to put us up by two.”
Marble and Vanessa Silva split time in the goal and combined for five saves to claim the shutout.
Haspela said the team’s third goal was one of the best plays of the year for the team. Lilly Zega and McCurdy connected with a give-and-go play at the midfield that set up a through pass from McCurdy to Jade Schumacker, who then delivered a picture-perfect cross to Cimock, who volleyed it into the next for her second goal of the week.
“This was an intense and exciting game and I’m proud of the girls for playing with heart, intensity, and control,” Haspela said.
The girls host Hermiston 4 p.m. Oct. 24 for senior night and their last home game of the regular season; they then go on the road Oct. 29 to The Dalles for the final CRC matchup.