HERMISTON — After pulling off a hat trick on senior night, Joel Mendez was feeling good. And so was the rest of the Hermiston boys soccer team. The Bulldogs ended their regular season with a commanding 8-0 win over Pendleton on Tuesday, and had to prepare for a quick turnaround to keep their season alive.
The play-in game at Kennison Field on Saturday did just that.
Hermiston hosted Milwaukie for a win or go home match up, and defeated the Mustangs 3-1.
The physical match once again showed off the talent of Mendez, as he was responsible for two of the three goals en route to the victory.
“It’s the strikers instinct and he’s always had that,” head coach Rich Harshberger said of Mendez. “I look back, and he hasn’t always gotten the most minutes through his sophomore and junior year but he has scored some big goals for us over the years, tonight not the least of any of them.
“It’s just that strikers instinct that you can’t train,” he continued. “You can’t teach somebody to do that. They just have to know where to be, know what to expect from their teammates and fortunately these guys have been playing together for a long time so they know what to expect from each other.”
Hermiston’s chemistry on the pitch was noticeable from the start of play to the final buzzer. The Bulldogs had their first look at goal almost immediately, but a tough Milwaukie defense broke up one of Hermiston’s many chances at a goal.
Minutes later Mendez was in traffic inside the goal area when a cross came his way. With three defenders on him he managed to head the ball just outside of the goalies reach for his first score of the night in the ninth minute.
Hermiston entered halftime with a 1-0 lead.
After the break, Mendez knocked in another one. This time he slide the ball into the net to push the Bulldogs’ lead to 2-0.
There was no shortage of shots on goal for Hermiston in the second half, but it would take nearly the rest of the half until the Bulldogs scored again. During that time, Milwaukie made things interesting when it got one past Hermiston goalkeeper Juan Navarrete in the 71st minute.
The Mustangs had a few chances at the equalizer, but Navarrete wasn’t going to let anymore past him.
Hermiston then scored its insurance goal and sealed its postseason fate.
“I was definitely expecting a tough match,” Harshberger said. “It was definitely hard to gauge. Always coming into the postseason you look at their record, who they played and any team coming out of Portland will be tough. We just excepted a physical match and they brought it. My boys weathered the storm and took it to them.
“Sometimes these play-in games can be as hard as a semifinal or quarterfinal,” he added. “They brought it and they stepped up to that challenge and they didn’t back down from it at all.”
Hermiston will face Hillsboro in Round 1 of the 5A Boys Soccer State Championships. Hillsboro will host the match on Nov. 1. The start time has yet to be determined.
The girls team was up first in the play-in doubleheader, but unlike the boys their season came to an end Saturday evening. Hermiston hosted La Salle, and the Falcons escaped Kennison Field with a 3-1 win over the Bulldogs.
La Salle took control early, but Hermiston did manage to get into Falcon’s half a few times in the first quarter of play. The Bulldogs chances were cut short by a lack of execution and a physical La Salle defense.
The defensive effort on both teams kept the game scoreless for a good part of the first half. Hermiston’s Heidi Fuentes had some good stops to keep La Salle at bay, but the Falcons finally broke through in the 24th minute, as a header from La Salle’s Audrey Schelb off a corner kick put the Falcons up 1-0.
They would enter halftime up by one more score after a Hermiston handball in its own box led to a penalty kick. Megan Lyver set up a nice fake that sent Hermiston’s goalkeeper Lanie Gomez in the opposite direction of the ball.
Four Bulldogs were missing from Saturday’s contest: Jael Fuentes, Amanda Nygard and Daniela and Adriana Rodriguez. Hermiston missed their presence, especially Nygard’s speed up front but a handful of junior varsity players stepped in to help.
“We had a few holes but we asked a couple of the JV girls to come up and they stepped up and they were good for us,” head coach Danielle MacBride said.
After the break, the Bulldogs were finally able to get on the board of what seemed like an impossible shot by Hannah Thompson in the 54th minute.
Johnson controlled a short pass on the far right side of the field, and then sent the ball sailing into the opposite side of the goal. The ball barely caught the net, and then bounced in to cut Hermiston’s deficit.
“She does that, I don’t know where it comes from,” MacBride said of Thompson. “There’s not much more you can say to it. I told David (Wattenburger), ‘I want to see her do it again, prove it.’ At the same time, a goal is a goal. We’ll take it.”
But it was too little too late for the Bulldogs, as La Salle scored its third and final goal just minutes into the second half. Again it was a header from Schelb off a corner that sealed the deal.
“Honestly, I don’t know if there was one or two things that we could say we didn’t do well,” MacBride said. “We were a little lax mentally in the beginning and we’ve kind of always struggled with set pieces like that, defending them and they scored two goals off them and that hand ball was unfortunate and it happens so it was anybody’s game aside from those little mental letdowns.”
The girls will have a year off to prepare and transition into the WIAA.
Contact Alexis at email@example.com or 541-564-4542. Follow her on Twitter @almansanarez.