After losing 4-0 earlier in the week to a second-ranked Marist team, the Cottage Grove boys soccer team still controlled their own destiny for the playoffs.
As the clock ticked to zero last Thurs. Oct. 10 at Don King Field, the Lions (6-4 overall, 3-2 league) and their fans looked up at the scoreboard to see a 2-1 victory against the visiting Marshfield Pirates (6-4, 2-3).
With Junction City losing to Marist 8-0, the results broke a three-way tie for second place in the Sky-Em League - between the Tigers, Pirates and Lions - leaving Cottage Grove alone in second behind the Spartans. With three games remaining, the Lions can win two of three to guarantee themselves an automatic bid to the state playoffs, given to the top two finishers in each of the six 4A leagues.
“You want to be in the top two,” head coach Vern Stewart said after the game. “We ended up third [in the league] last year and ended up ranked number 18 in the state. That made it so we got to go … But it gets a little dicey when you do it that way, so it’s better to go in as the top two.”
The first half was a tale of two familiar teams waiting for the right moment to strike, resulting in a defensive battle that left the teams knotted at zero entering halftime.
“The first half we were kinda feeling each other out, doing a lot of changing, wanting to see what they were bringing,” Stewart said.
“We’ve been working on our defense, making sure that we have a good transition. We knew their defense was a little suspect, so we figured that if we could beat their mids that we could take it to their defenders and be able to score.”
While Stewart saw opportunities to exploit the Pirates defense, it was indeed the Lions’ own defense that took center stage. Sophomore Jayden Cameron was shifted into a more defensive role and, along with defender and senior team captain Fernando Soto-Cruz, helped hold a potent Marshfield offense to a single goal for the teams’ second straight matchup.
“Basically we knew it was going to be a tough game, but we knew that if we could keep their guys from penetrating our defensive third, we’d be able to work on our transition and get to score,” Stewart said.
The Lions came roaring out of halftime and, buoyed by the aforementioned staunch defensive play, scored two goals within the first 12 minutes of the second half, the first by junior midfielder Cory Butts and the second from senior Mitchell Krokus.
“Cory’s coming into his own. We knew he had the speed to come down the middle and he got a nice breakaway, a beautiful ball passed to him by Evan [Snauer],” Stewart said.
Marshfield managed to pull within one on a second-half score, but the offense that has netted the fifth most goals of all 4A teams this season was held in check for the remainder of the game.
As the horn sounded, the boys erupted in celebration of the hard-fought, team victory.
“I would say Evan [Snauer] had a great game, but how can you give [a game ball] to just one? The whole team did well,” Stewart said, visibly overjoyed by his team’s efforts.
The Lions host Junction City (2-8-1, 2-3) next Tues. Oct. 22 before traveling to Marist on Thurs. Oct 24 for their final two games of the season.
Spartan speed, passing too much for CG
Trips up to Marist Catholic High School often result in frustration for Cottage Grove teams and athletes. For the girls soccer team, last week’s away match wasn’t much different.
Playing on a wet, cold and windy night in Eugene last Tues. Oct 8, the Lions (6-5, 4-1) couldn’t find a way to stop a potent Marist (9-0-2, 5-0) offense, allowing four first-half goals that proved all the difference in the Spartans’ 4-0 victory.
“They’re calm, collected and poised with the ball,” Lions head coach Reed Levings said of Marist.
“They talk and make good passes to their teammates and that’s what we lacked. We weren’t communicating, so we weren’t marked up at times so they were just playing monkey in the middle and passing around us.”
While Cottage Grove tightened up their defense and passing in the second half, mistakes made early in the first period spelled their demise.
“That’s what I told them,” Levings said. “On the scoreboard there are four goals for four mistakes and they capitalized on all four of them.”
Freshman Paige Meador used her speed on the outside to score the first goal for the Spartans in the ninth minute. Nine minutes later, the Spartans extended their lead to 2-0 on a goal by junior Abbie Chambers after the lions gave up possession deep in their own defensive third.
The third goal was a highlight-reel score in the 28th minute from senior team captain Kallie Harding, zipping the ball from 20 yards out into the top left corner with a speed that Cottage Grove goalkeeper Raina Herzog couldn’t hope to compete with.
Despite the 4-0 final score - capped off by a penalty kick goal by senior Ella Coulombe in the 34th minute of the first half - Herzog was a standout for the Lions in the loss.
“She had some beautiful saves,” Levings said of Herzog after the game. “She got her hands on several that hit the crossbar just because she got it up and redirected it. I was super proud of her, I don’t even know how many saves she had.”
Herzog ended the night with 14 saves in total, a number that while impressive, also says a great deal about Marist’s ability to penetrate the Lions defense.
“It was an improvement from last year,” Levings said, referencing the two 2018 matchups that Marist won by a combined 17-2. “But I think if we’d knocked a goal in it would’ve changed the momentum of the game.”
Cottage Grove finished their week in Coos Bay, defeating Marshfield (0-13, 0-8) by a final of 10-0 and keeping themselves alone in second place in the Sky-Em League.
The Lions next travel to Junction City on Tues. Oct. 22 for their second to last game of the season.