PENDLETON — The Back 9 of the Hermiston boys’ soccer season had more traps in it than the Bulldogs would have liked. Following a conference tie and loss in consecutive matches in the last 10 days, Hermiston limped into the Columbia River Conference finale against Pendleton on Monday needing a boost.
The Bulldogs (10-1-2, 3-1-1 CRC) delivered. A 6-0 thrashing of the Buckaroos (1-9-4, 0-5-1 CRC) shone out like a beacon for Hermiston, a message not just to the rest of Class 5A soccer but to the boys behind the purple jerseys as well.
The Bulldogs still have bite.
The victory for Hermiston keeps the Bulldogs’ slim hopes for a piece of the CRC championship alive for at least another day. Hermiston, which tied The Dalles Wahtonka and lost to Hood River Valley in its two matches previous to Monday, could tie for the CRC crown if Hood River ties with The Dalles in their match today. Should the Eagles lose, Hermiston would win outright.
But Hood River (7-4-1, 4-1 CRC) far outmatches The Dalles (3-6-3, 1-2-2 CRC) so the Bulldogs aren’t likely to lose much sleep in anticipation.
Monday’s loss — a match pushed up a day because of a shortage of officials for today’s games — all but eliminated Pendleton and cements its last-place spot in the CRC. The Bucks need to finish ranked 24th or better by the OSAA when the rankings freeze Wednesday and the team was down at 25 on Monday evening. That could change with some moving and shaking today but Pendleton coach Rob Hillmick knows his team left plenty of opportunities to help themselves on the field this season.
“We had about six games right there in the middle of the season, just tough games, ties and one-goal losses. I think it really took it out of them,” said Hillmick, whose team hasn’t won since the second match of the season. “After that stretch, here in conference we didn’t play near up to where we could.”
Even at their best, though, the Bucks would have had their hands full with Hermiston. A trio of Bulldogs scored two goals each in the offensive onslaught. Seniors Oscar Contreras and Orlando Guzman scored a pair apiece to go with the two that junior Velasco put in during the first half.
Hermiston led 3-0 at the half but was determined to jump on the Buckaroos immediately when the teams returned to the pitch. The Bulldogs bounced the ball up the field in a blink, walking through Pendleton’s defense like they’d found a door in the wall.
Before 10 seconds had expired, Contreras had booted in a goal to make it 4-0.
“We scared them. It was just boom, boom and in,” Contreras said. “We just got them off guard and that’s what we want to do.”
Pendleton — which had a pair of shots on goal from distance in the second half compared to Hermiston’s 19 total — found its bright spots and darkest moments in its own goal. Freshman keeper Grant Banister put in overtime work, especially in the second half, with 13 saves. The lanky keeper knocked down balls in every corner while keeping the match from escalating to a football-like score.
But many of Banister’s saves came in tandem. The goalie struggled to wrangle in well-struck shots on multiple occasions. By letting the ball bound back into play, Banister made his life a little more difficult with secondary shots to worry about.
Four times he blocked or smothered rebound shots from Bulldog strikers. Two other times all he could do is watch as they scored.
Both teams will learn of their postseason fate later this week. Hermiston, currently ranked No. 10, would play at home on Friday or Saturday in the play-in round should their spot in the standings hold firm. With a bit of upward trajectory into the Top 8, the Bulldogs would receive a bye into the next round Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Should Pendleton find itself with another match, the Bucks would play on the road against another team of Hermiston’s caliber and ranking.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at email@example.com or 541-966-0839.