HILLSBORO – Oregon Episcopal School got an early goal, dominated for most of the match and held on when McLoughlin caught fire late to defeat Mac-Hi, 2-1, on Saturday evening at the OSAA / OnPoint Community Credit Union 3A/2A/1A Boys Soccer State Championship at Liberty High in Hillsboro.
The title was the first for Aardvark head coach David Rosenberg after three runner up finishes.
“I’m grateful these boys put us in this position,” Rosenberg said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the senior leadership and the way this team has grown together. We really peaked at the right time. I’m so proud of these guys for battling for 80 minutes and finishing a job.”
Oregon Episcopal School (16-1) won six boys soccer state titles between 2005 and 2014. Since then, however, the Aardvarks had been held without the blue trophy, thanks largely to the dominance of league rival Catlin Gabel, which won four times since 2016. OES was twice the victim during the Eagles’ most recent stretch of excellence and runner up also in 2015.
OES came to the championship match on Saturday as the top seed in the division. The Aardvarks had won each of their previous three playoff matches by three goals or more, led by Julian Ettinger’s six playoff goals.
Staring across from OES in the championship match was not Catlin Gabel, with whom OES split matches during the regular season. Instead, it was McLaughlin, a tiny school from Milton-Freewater in the northeast part of the state near the Washington border, 27 miles north of Pendleton. Mac-Hi was a formidable side, with 16 wins to its credit against just two losses. The Pioneers had won three titles in its past, the last in 2007, but with seven returning starters, they hoped to make 3A/2A/1A their division after dropping from 4A during the offseason. Mac-Hi’s impressive resume included a 3-0 shutout of 4A runner up Phoenix in early September, and a 2-1 quarterfinal ousting of Catlin Gabel on penalty kicks.
On paper, the match should been very close.
It was not…until it was.
Oregon Episcopal dominated the match from the opening kickoff. OES played with more energy, had a huge advantage in possession and had far more quality chances that did Mac-Hi.
“We started a little bit slow,” said McLoughlin coach Jose Garcia. “We were kind of scared. We played nervous and for the most part put too much pressure on ourselves.”
OES got on the scoreboard in the fifth minute on its first shot of the match. Ettinger, who scored four times in the semifinals, knocked in a one-timer past athletic keeper Danny Gonzalez on a perfect corner from Barrett Lindholm.
Ettinger missed the first month of the season injured, but continued his late season surge with the opening salvo.
“He is the most passionate, enthusiastic guy ever,” Rosenberg said. “He brings energy and fight every single day.”
Oregon Episcopal showed no complacency after the first goal. The Aardvarks outshot Mac-Hi, 6-1, in the first half. Gonzalez had to make three saves to keep it a one-goal match and the Pioneers benefited from a handball that negated another impressive goal, this one by freshman Ryder Sendecke, midway through the first period.
Meanwhile, OES goalie Ben Korngold was bored. Mac-Hi, which got energy from Romario Garcia and Angel Castillo, could not generate quality chances, as OES’ defensive line of Braeden Carter, Henry Gewecke, Edward Brezina and Lincoln Weiler proved impregnable.
Late in the first half, Mac-Hi almost got the equalizer. One minute after Gonzalez stopped a one-on-one shot from Ettinger, the Pioneers counter attacked behind hard-working sophomore Giovanni Sandoval. His blistering shot, ticketed for the far post, was deflected by Korngold and actually bounded off the post before being cleared away. The late flurry gave Mac-Hi life despite going into the break trailing 1-0.
The second half began with Oregon Episcopal keeping the pressure on. Alex Chen was very active for the ‘Varks.
Six minutes into the second half, Lindholm worked his way clear, but his shot, one of 10 for OES in the half to five for Mac-Hi, sailed over the crossbar.
Strong defense from Jose Hernandez, who had two terrific tackles, stopped OES from threatening even more through the first 10 minutes of play.
Mac-Hi had a quality chance in the tenth minute, thanks to a nice ball from Almikar Garcia. OES was whistled for a foul just outside the box on the play, resulting in a dangerous free kick. Garcia took it. Korngold bobbled the hard-driven ball, but hauled it in before damage could be done.
McLoughlin started to pick up its intensity with about 28 minutes left in regulation.
“It’s something we talked about at the half,” said Garcia. “I told them, ‘You have to want the ball. You have to have the ball. It’s not going to work unless you want the ball.’”
Playing more loosely, McLoughlin created more chances for itself. The Pioneers had two consecutive corner kicks, taken by Johan Banderas. The second was much more dangerous but foiled on a nice hustle play from Sendecke.
As the second half continued, it began to feel like either OES would hang on to win 1-0 or Mac-Hi would score the equalizer.
Instead, OES scored to go up 2-0.
Gonzalez found himself out of position after a frenzy in front of his goal. McLoughlin had a chance to clear the ball, but instead kicked it directly to Sendecke. The freshman settled the ball and banged it upper right into the open net.
“Our assistant coach says that soccer is a game of minutes and seconds,” Garcia said. “We made that mistake in the second half and we paid the price.”
The 2-0 lead seeming insurmountable, OES might have relaxed a tad while McLoughlin continued to fight. Sandoval was a beast for Mac-Hi and Romario Garcia created several dangerous chances with through balls in the end game.
In the 75th minute, Mac-Hi finally dented the scoreboard. Romario Garcia’s centering pass went through the goal mouth and onto the foot of Almikar Garcia, who scored into an open net from close range.
This match was not over!!
Mac-Hi played at a frenetic pace over the final five minutes, trying to net the tying goal as OES tried to hang on.
“We had the momentum; we were playing more loose,” Garcia said. “We had them under pressure. They were scared.”
“McLoughlin played hard for 80 minutes,” Rosenberg observed. “We knew they were going to come back in the second half and put the pressure on.”
Two corner kicks and a shot from Jose Hernandez that went wide left provided opportunities for a tying goal. Alas, if was not meant to be. When the final whistle sounded, Aardvark players raced to find each other’s arms while Mac-Hi players collapsed to the turf. They had nothing left to give.
“Of the eight final teams, McLoughlin was the only one we hadn’t had an opportunity to play and beat,” Rosenberg said. “It felt like a storybook ending to be able to finish the job in this way.”