HERMISTON — The Hermiston boys’ soccer team picked up some important tips last season. Most notably, if they want to win the Columbia River Conference, the Bulldogs know that means they’ll have to get by the Hood River Valley Eagles.
Hermiston (8-0-1, 2-0 CRC) did Tuesday what it failed to do twice in 2011, namely beat the Eagles. The Bulldogs came out on top 2-1 at Sandstone Elementary School in Hermiston during the teams’ first meeting of the season, a Pedro Cadenas goal in the 77th minute providing the difference.
“We knew especially after last year tying them twice that we had to get the points on them somewhere,” Hermiston coach Rich Harshberger said. “And if not here, then we definitely would to have needed to get the points (in Hood River). It was huge for us to get this victory (at home).”
The Eagles are fifth.
But the match looked destined for another draw until late, the same outcome that both matches last season saw. Those contests ended 0-0 and 2-2 while Tuesday’s was deadlocked at 1-1, like a pair of brigades in a perfectly balanced battle.
Then Cadenas finally got some space.
The senior Bulldog forward bolted behind the last line of defenders as Oscar Contreras sent a pass over the top from near midfield. A pesky goaltender was the lone obstacle left in his way. Unfazed, Cadenas dribbled around a diving Alonso Mendiola-Mireles and ushered the ball across the goal line as gently as a midwife laying down a newborn baby.
“I knew (Contreras) was going to try and look for me and he gave a really good pass. I just had to run on to it and finish the play. That’s what I’m here for,” said Cadenas, who added that his burst of speed came from the game situation. “Just the intensity and the need to win (Tuesday’s) game. We couldn’t settle for a tie.”
But a victory or even a draw required an uphill battle based on the first few minutes of this match. The Bulldogs spotted Hood River Valley the lead when Edgar Villegas-Chavarria scored from inside the right corner of the goal box in just the fifth minute.
That goal was only the 10th allowed by Hermiston keeper Ricardo Sotelo in 2012.
Hermiston couldn’t mount a response before halftime as the defenses ruled the remainder of the first 40 minutes. Both teams had scoring chances — five shots on goal for the Eagles to the Dawgs’ four — but most of them were from distance or square into the keepers’ arms.
So Hermiston played the part of the aggressive gambler after intermission. The Bulldogs threw an extra man forward to spark some offense while resting a little more weight on Sotelo and the defense to hold.
The strategy worked in the 56th minute when Cesar Cadenas, a defender, laced a ball into the net from 30 yards out. From there the momentum was wearing purple and gold.
“They’re confident (in me) but when we press that much there’s a lot of room for error,” Sotelo said. “We’ve got to keep our head and keep focused. Ignore the refs and their calls and just play our game, play as one big family and play united.”
When the Bulldogs press, their opponents are often caught on their heels and can’t mount retaliatory possessions, coach Harshberger said. That combined with his keeper — Sotelo, an all-league selection as a junior last season who had 12 saves in the match — left Harshberger feeling sure in the plan.
“Getting there and just stopping them, just being a brick wall, a beast, an animal,” Harshberger said describing Sotelo. “You know, I was a goal keeper so when I see that, I just swell with pride.”
Sotelo may have had his most trying match of the season Tuesday, the coach added. He was tested from whistle to whistle, including a save in the final minute on a wide open shooter, Villegas-Chavarria, the same striker who beat Sotelo earlier in the game.
The Bulldogs will stay at home to face Pendleton next Tuesday, a night game scheduled at 7 p.m. at Armand Larive Middle School.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0839.