Eagles out of state race with 2-1 loss at Woodburn

— In agonizing and exhilarating fashion, the Hood River Valley High School varsity boys soccer team — down by two goals to much of the match — battled back to within mere inches of evening the score Tuesday night at Woodburn High School, only to watch their chance slip away with the clock in what ended as a 2-1 win for the hosting Bulldogs.

With a goal early in the first half and another early in the second, Woodburn had the win and a back-to-back trip to the state finals in clear sight. But, as coach Jaime Rivera told his squad halftime, “We didn’t come all this way to get shut out.”

A one-touch bullet to the back of the net by Camiel Buursma (assisted by Chris Cardenas) with 15 minutes left in the game was lightning that started a fire on the field. Having trailed the entire game, the goal gave the Eagles a huge boost of energy and intensity. For the Bulldogs, the sudden shift in momentum put the defending state champions uncomfortably on their heels. Add a large and lively crowd cheering for both teams, and the atmosphere on the field turned explosive very quickly.

Referees had to regain control after a series of rough plays came to a head with Woodburn forward Michael Hobson turning from a loose ball to tackle defender Daniel Romero with a full-on headlock that would have been illegal even in a rugby match. Yellow cards were dispersed to both players but it did little to damper the intensity for the rest of the game.

“I think Hobson finally met his match and he got frustrated,” Rivera said. “It was a great matchup; one of the best forwards in the state against one of the best defenders in the state. He (Hobson) lost his cool and was really lucky he didn’t get a red card. That would have changed the game and taken him out for the finals.”

An entire SportsCenter Top 10 Plays could have been pulled from the last five minutes of the game. On the offensive side, the Eagles had several dramatic near-goals that were either just wide or blocked by Woodburn goalie Kevin Courtney-Vera, who had a solid season averaging less than a goal per game. Chris Cardenas and Jaime Frias led the offensive push in what evolved late season into a powerful striking duo for the Eagles. Defensively, senior goalie Alonso Mendiola played one of the best games of his career to help keep Woodburn’s impressively quick offense in check.

“As far as I’m concerned Alonso is the best keeper in the state,” Rivera said. “I haven’t seen a better goalie this season at any level. He came up big a lot this season and deserves a lot of credit.”

When the two teams met earlier this season Woodburn took a lead early, only have the Eagles rally in the second half to tie the game 4-4.

“It was like déjà vu,” Said Rivera. “We thought we were going to take it into overtime, and there were a few chances where we should have. We didn’t play the best first half. To be honest I think it was nerves. They pressured us very tight and them scoring early in the game put us in a tough spot.”

Woodburn scored both of its goals and had several near-goals off center balls from the right side of the field.

The semifinal round loss puts the Eagles in the top four in the 5A bracket; the best finish for HRV boys soccer since 2004, when the team made it to the 4A semifinals. Woodburn, last year’s 5A state champions, advances to the finals on Saturday against Mountain View High School, which defeated Summit 1-0 Tuesday in the other semifinal match.

“You came off the field giving it everything you had, and that’s what it’s all about,” Rivera told the boys after the game. “I’m proud; very proud of all of you. This has been the most memorable season I’ve ever been a part of and it’s very exciting to see the foundation you have set for the future of this team. This loss doesn’t really matter; it’s the relationships and memories you made this season that do. Those will last forever.”

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