Walla Walla, Peninsula earn trips to NWAACC Men’s final

Walla Walla, Peninsula earn trips to NWAACC Men’s final

The Walla Walla Warriors Men edged the Highline Thunderbirds 3:2 at Starfire Sports Stadium on Saturday to claim a spot in Sunday’s NWAACC Soccer final. The Warriors will match up against the top-ranked Pirates of Peninsula College, who ousted the Edmonds Tritons 2:0.

Peninsula 2:0 Edmonds

TUKWILA, Wash. – (www.NWAACC.org) In a game that many saw as a stepping stone for the return of Peninsula to the finals, the Edmonds Tritons gave the Pirates quite a game on Saturday night, eventually falling behind and losing 2-0 to close their season. The win for Peninsula pits them in tomorrow’s championship match verses Walla Walla at 5:30 p.m. at Starfire Sports Stadium in Tukwila, Wash.

Coming into the game with a heavy edge, Peninsula hadn’t lost a league game all season, drawing only once and winning the other twelve matches. Edmonds had taken the longer road to the semi-finals. Just barely favored by the coaches in their quarterfinal match against Columbia Basin, Edmonds scored mid-way through the second half for the 1-0 victory and ticket to the final four.

One of the better defensive teams in the league with 11 shutouts, Edmonds held the prolific offense of Peninsula at bay for the better part of the first half, despite several chances from the Pirates throughout the first 30 minutes. A cross from the Peninsula midfield found a Pirate head, but ricocheted into the waiting hands of Edmonds keeper Andrew McDonald. Minutes later, Peninsula midfielder Daniel Gonzales made a strong run deep into the 18 yard box where his shot was, again, saved by McDonald.

(NWAACC photo)

Edmonds had chances of their own. A corner kick in the 14th minute hit not one, but two Edmonds players inside the goal box before being cleared by Peninsula.

Finally, in the 32nd minute, Peninsula gained an advantage. Defenseman Parker Vacura sent a ball sailing in from the right side of Peninsula’s attacking third where it connected with a diving Alex Martinez, who headed the ball past McDonald and into the net.

Finally with a lead, Peninsula grew in confidence. However, despite their efforts, neither team would score again before halftime. A lightning strike from Aaron Jeffery sailed just over the crossbar in the 39th minute, and a free kick from 30 yards was snatched from the cold night air by McDonald, but the score remained 1-0 Peninsula after 45 minutes.

Edmonds came into the second half with a bit more aggressiveness than had been seen in the first period. The Tritons quickly won a free kick just outside Peninsula’s 18 yard box, but sent the ball over the crossbar for a goal kick. Moments later, strong defending stifled a pair of attacks for Peninsula, setting up perhaps the best goal scoring opportunity that Edmonds would see all evening.

Pressing Peninsula hard in their own defensive third, Edmonds rained in two consecutive shots on Pirate goalkeeper Guilherme Avelar, forcing the Brazillian sophomore into impressive back to back saves. The second save found Avelar sprawled on the turf clutching the ball after a dive, and just two minutes later, Avelar was tested again when Edmonds sent a shot towards the upper left corner. Avelar parried the shot over the crossbar, and the resulting corner was cleared.

Peninsula’s next possession would prove deadly for Edmonds. After some patient positioning, Martinez lofted a pass toward the Edmonds goal, finding Jake Forrester for the header, which rattled off the right upright and into the net.

The 2-0 deficit would prove too much for the Edmonds Tritons, despite out-shooting the Pirates 11-10. When the final whistle sounded, Peninsula gathered at mid-field for a moment before greeting their fans and calmly walking back to pack their things for tomorrow’s match.

Head coach Andrew Chapman explained that the collectedness was because the team knew that their job wasn’t done yet, and that their potential hadn’t yet been reached.

“If we work hard and we play hard and we make good decisions, we have a good chance of winning games,” said Chapman. “I think the team feels that’s in our control, to some degree.”

Like Chapman, Avelar is also looking forward to tomorrow’s championship.

“They have really good strikers, we have good strikers,” said Avelar with a smile. “We have good defenders and they have good defense. It should be an even match.”

The Thunderbirds and Warriors played a thriller at Starfire that went the way of Walla Walla, 3:2. (NWAACC photo)

Walla Walla 3:2 Highline

TUKWILA, Wash. – (www.NWAACC.org) A tight contest right up to the finish, Walla Walla came out ahead after a wild final few minutes to beat out Highline by a score of 3-2 for a trip to the NWAACC Championship game on Sunday. From the opening kickoff, both teams played physical. Walla Walla, the champion from the East, was looking for their first trip to the finals since 2009, while Highline looked to keep their fantastic run alive after knocking off second-ranked Clark in the quarterfinals.

PHOTO GALLERY: Jeff Halstead shoots Warriors v. Thunderbirds

Things were scoreless fir the first 20 minutes, with both teams narrowly missing chances. That changed in the 27th, when Highline’s Kyle Danielson sent a corner into the box and connected with freshman forward Cole Madden, who headed the ball into the net to break the scoreless tie.

Walla Walla would draw even 15 minutes later. The Warriors won a corner, and after taking a bounce, the ball found found Max Smith, who sent the ball into the back of the net to bring the score to 1-1 in the 42nd minute.

Highline on the attack. (Wilson Tsoi)

Still tied at halftime, Walla Walla finally broke away and took a lead in the 57th minute. The Warriors won a corner that was origonally cleared by Highline, but sent back towards the goal, forcing HCC keeper Nick Rosato to rise above the WWCC forwards to nab the ball. The ball was cleared, but on the ensuing counter, Walla Walla’s Johnathan Rodriguez found space in the center of the box and blasted a shot past Rosato to make the score 2-1.

Rough play continued to elevate as the half went on. John Monroy struck gold from the middle of the 18 yard box to tie things up at 2 in the 65th minute, and things finally reached a peak ten minutes later.

The Warriors (far right) celebrate a goal against Highline in the NWAACC Semis. (Wilson Tsoi)

Highline keeper Nick Rosato was cautioned for language in the 74th minute, starting a string of cards in the 74th, 76th and 78th minutes for Highline. Seven minutes later, Walla Walla struck again.

A hard challenge from Highline gave Walla Walla a free kick on the attacking side of midfield. Jhony Mendosa sent the kick high and bounced past the outstretched hands of Rosato and into the goal.

Mendosa’s goal would prove to be the final nail in the coffin for Highline. After a few final frantic minutes of play, the whistle sounded, ending Highline’s run and catapulting Walla Walla into Sunday’s NWAACC Championship game.

Highline scores on a header from #9 Cole Madden (Gig Harbor.) (WIlson Tsoi)
Highline scores on a header from #9 Cole Madden (Gig Harbor.) (WIlson Tsoi)

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