Catlin Gabel repels Riverside

Photo by John Lariviere for the East Oregonian Erik Ruiz (left) of Riverside controls a bouncing ball in midfield as Catlin GabelÕs Graham Fuller looks on.

PORTLAND?— It took Catlin Gabel 25 seconds to set the tone for the remaining 79 minutes of its 4-2 semifinals win over Riverside boys’ soccer on Tuesday.

Stacked with 11 seniors — nine starters since freshman year — Catlin Gabel’s first of 15 shots on goal was a killer in the Class 3A/2A/1A state playoff. Graham Fuller located the ball as it deflected off Riverside’s goal keeper, netting an easy shot from close range.

“That’s one of those things you never think about,” said Riverside coach Carlos Velasco of the lightning-fast score. “This team pressures a lot and they fight for every ball, and it’s very hard to get a goal back from that early.”

Also difficult for Riverside to handle was the absence of Omar Barrera, which hampered the defense’s ability to battle an Eagles offense that scored two second half goals in less than four minutes. The freshman starting defender broke his collar bone in the Pirates’ 3-2 quarterfinals win over Pleasant Hill.

“It probably made a huge difference because he started the whole season, but we’re not saying that was the reason why we lost,” Velasco said of losing Barrera. “The reason we lost was they made their chances to score and we didn’t.”

Scoring opportunities were plentiful for both teams in the first half, which ended 1-0. A Catlin Gabel header nipped the crossbar in the sixth minute, and a nip-tuck battle ensued as Riverside pressed the No. 1 Eagles with five well-placed strikes.

“Riverside is such a great team,” said Catlin Gabel coach Mike Davis. “They’re really skillful and we knew that we would have to play one of our better games to beat these guys.”

Fortunately for Catlin Gabel, the second half began as poorly for Riverside as the game started. The Eagles built a 3-0 lead by its eighth minute, devastating Riverside’s hopes by pounding two goals within four minutes of each other courtesy of Fuller and Joseph Oberholtzer.

At long last in the 51st minute, freshman Francisco Velasquez put Riverside on the board. Edgar Llamas kicked the ball to Jose Flores, who spotted Velasquez alone in the box and assisted him on a heel tap.

“It was a good feeling getting my team back up to see if we could do better, but we need a little more work,” Velasquez said.  

Jovanny Llamas tacked on Riverside’s final goal with 2:22 remaining after Oberholtzer’s second goal. The bittersweet point came after the game had already slipped away.

An emotional senior Francisco Martinez contemplated Riverside’s third-round loss, which trumped last year’s second-round defeat to Dayton by penalty kicks.

“We played our hardest and they were better, so you’ve got to give it up to them,” Martinez said. “We didn’t go as far as we should have this season because we don’t play against hard teams in the (Special District 5) league. We’re kind of just out there.”

Catlin Gabel, meanwhile, advances to the state championship game on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Liberty High School. The Eagles (15-0-2) clinched a chance to better their 2009 runner-up playoffs effort, which ended disappointingly on an own goal with three minutes left versus Oregon Episcopal School.

Riverside finished its season 14-2-1. Four seniors will graduate, but have nothing to be ashamed of this year, Velasco said.

“Our season was fantastic,” Velasco said. “It’s always nice to have extra games around November, and three extra is a good season.”

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