The Pendleton Buck and Baker Bulldogs squared off in a high-energy match on Thursday, battling to a dramatic draw at Pendleton High School.
Pendleton junior goalie Andrew Wolotira got down and dirty as he was kept busy throughout the game by Baker, which fired several high-speed shots his way from close range.
Wolotira loomed large at the end of the field, standing 6’3” and weighing 175 pounds, fearlessly diving right at his opponents’ oncoming cleats to defend a goal.
“You gotta get up there,” he said. “You have to cut off every angle, or else you leave the goal wide open.”
Both teams exhibited unbridled energy throughout the night. Whenever Wolotira blocked a goal, he’d launch it halfway across the field for his teammates to receive.
And when Pendleton’s Jonathan Lopez attempted a goal from the 40-yard line, Baker midfielder Omar Benites sent the ball hurdling off the field and into the parking lot.
Baker midfielder Jamisun Rigueiro scored the first goal of the night 10 minutes into the game. It was the only goal in the first half.
Even though Pendleton was down a point going into the second half, Wolotira was determined to keep morale high. During the halftime break, he could be heard giving his team words of encouragement, strategy and advice, and cheering them on from the goal posts during the game.
“As the captain, I gotta keep my boys’ spirits high,” he said. “We always play like it’s 0-0.”
Pendleton’s Johann Valera-Vega suffered a leg injury in the second half after sliding in for a kick and aggravated the injury by falling while defending the ball against Baker.
Vega then slid into Baker’s Jorge Duran, tripping him and earning Duran a penalty kick, which put Baker two points ahead of the Bucks.
With five-and-a-half minutes left on the clock, Wolotira fired a pass in Lance Wolf’s direction, who ran it straight into Baker’s net, putting Pendleton on the scoreboard for the first time.
The goal re-energized the Bucks. Pendleton’s Jonathan Lopez rallied his team — and the audience — running across the sidelines. After Lopez took possession of the ball, he seamlessly passed it to Gabe Rodriguez, and with just 1:29 left on the clock and Rodriguez made the final goal of the night, knotting up the score, 2-2.
“That was a perfect second half if I’ve ever seen one,” said Pendleton head coach Alex Erazo. “The boys fought hard and with heart. Seeing that we could score against Baker pushed us over the edge to keep it up.”
Pendleton will travel to Mac-Hi on Sept. 18 while Baker travels to Four Rivers in Ontario on Saturday.