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At right, Hermiston’s Omar Ochoa. (Photo by EJ Harris)
By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

HERMISTON — It was a chilly Tuesday night at Armand Larive Middle School and the outcome of Hermiston’s first-round playoff soccer match did little to warm the Bulldogs. 

Against fifth-seeded Sherwood (11-3-2, 5-1-1 NWOC), the boys from Hermiston failed to mount much of an offensive attack until late in the game, falling 1-0 and ending their season.

The lone goal in the game came in the 60th minute on a free kick from the top of the goaltending box. Sherwood’s Nathan Anderson sent a rope into the bottom left corner past Hermiston keeper Ricardo Sotelo. The goal was all Sherwood needed as the Bowmen’s defense wrangled the No. 4 Bulldogs offense.

Yet the game was within grasp for Hermiston (9-3-2, 4-0-2 CRC) until the final whistle, coach Rich Harshberger said, which would not have been possible without Sotelo’s efforts in the net.

“That’s what I told him as he walked away, he’s the man of the match,” Harshberger said. “Without him, that was a 6-0 game, not a 1-0 game.”

Sotelo saved 10 shots in the match that was played under the lights at Armand Larive. He was on his toes for most of the first half when Sherwood compiled 15 shots. One of the first shots of the game collided with Sotelo’s face, a save that stung but may have helped energize his goaltending.

“That kind of woke me up,” he said. “I was cold and it hit my face but it woke me up and I was just ready for whatever after that.”

Sotelo dirtied his uniform after the initial blow, diving and pouncing on any ball that got near the goal. Several shots heading for the goal died at his outstretched finger tips.

But, after intermission, as the temperature continued to drop and a light fog settled on the pitch, the Bowmen played fewer balls around Sotelo’s net as the Bulldog offense became a little less stagnant. That’s when the cold of the night started to pierce his uniform, he said. The lack of action — paired with a well-angled ball from Anderson on the free kick — created the decisive goal of the match.

“Coming out in the second half it was slow and a cold night,” the junior said. “I was trying to find a way to stay warm and it wasn’t helping that much. They stopped shooting in the second half and I started cooling down. They got a goal in. They took advantage of the chance they got.”

The Bulldogs had their best chances of the match all within the last 12 minutes of action. Sophomore Elias Velasco had a shot from near range after a defender misplayed the ball, but his kick caromed off the post and out of bounds. Minutes later, a Hermiston free kick from 40 yards left the ball bouncing around dangerously in front of Sherwood’s net. Junior Juan Maldonado laid good contact on a strike but the ball soared wide of the net.

Coach Harshberger said despite the shutout, he saw the Sherwood game as one of the best played by his boys in the past few weeks. The Bowmen were a strong opponent and the loss doesn’t take away from a successful season. The Columbia River Conference co-champions moved one step farther into postseason play than last season.
 


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