PENDLETON — The pitch at Blue Mountain Community College’s soccer field might as well have slanted downhill to one goal on Tuesday. Like pinball flippers in a lightning round, no matter how strongly or how often the Pendleton defenders sent the ball upfield away from their net, it always found its way back.
The Buckaroo girls’ soccer team did their best pinball wizard impersonation through halftime, holding a scoreless tie with Hermiston, but gravity soon caught up. A relentless Hermiston attack scored a trio of goals in an eight-minute span to drop the Bucks 3-0 in a Columbia River Conference match.
The goal was as much a stimulant to the Bulldogs’ offense as it was a depressant for Pendleton (5-4-1, 0-2-1 CRC). Jansson would score again five minutes later after dribbling through the defense and then Berger got on the board in the 68th minute with a goal of her own.
“We weren’t so nervous when that first goal went,” Jansson said. “We started to loosen up and play the ball. You’ve just got to keep trying.”
Pendleton’s defense has lived in a war zone in recent weeks without much help from the front line. The Bucks have scored no more than two goals in a match since Sept. 25 while falling victims of a shutout on three occasions.
So once a single goal goes against them, the Bucks are more likely to go down by a pair, defender Bailey Bixler said.
“We kind of just lost our momentum. When we lost that 0-0, we were back on our heels,” she said.
Pendleton’s best scoring threat came toward the end of the first half after the ball had lived in the Bucks’ backfield long enough to declare legal residency. With the whole Hermiston team on the Pendleton side of midfield, a Pendleton clearing kick took a Buckaroo bounce and forward Kiana Sperl nabbed it to run behind the pushed-up Hermiston defense. As the Dawgs closed in on the stray Buck, Sperl let loose on a strong 30-yard shot but directed it right at the heart of Hermiston’s keeper Morgan Gibbs.
Gibbs suffocated the rally. Pendleton wouldn’t get another shot in the match.
On the other end, Pendleton's keeper McKenzie Sherman had 12 saves on a busy afternoon.
When the Bucks weren’t battling the Bulldogs, they had nature’s wrath to deal with. High winds that ran end-to-end made it almost impossible for Pendleton to clear the ball from its zone in the second half. Bucks’ coach Rocky Dillenburg said though the weather conditions affected both teams, his girls were less equiped to overcome the wind.
Pendleton doesn’t have a lot of power boots and with Hermiston constantly pressing, the girls struggled to stage an offensive threat in the second half.
Even for Hermiston, the wind made setting up the offense a complicated endeavor. The Dawgs’ Maggie Coleman took a free kick from about 20 yards out off of a Pendleton hand ball in the first half — the half when the wind was blowing in the Bulldogs’ faces. What would usually be a laser trained on the upper corner of the goal instead broke from its normal trajectory. Like a paper airplane caught in a living room fan, the ball whirred upward and over the net before banking back into the field of play.
“(The ball) was so much harder to judge in the air,” said Coleman, who also had a corner kick stray all the way behind the net like it rode an invisible curved track.
The Bulldogs, second in the CRC, go on the road to meet The Dalles Wahtonka for their next match Thursday. Pendleton is still looking to get a win in league play and will travel to Hood River to face the Eagles on Thursday.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at email@example.com or 541-966-0839.