The Hermiston boys like to keep their audience in suspense.
On Tuesday night, the soccer team made their Mid-Columbia Conference debut at home against the Hanford Falcons. Hanford took an early lead, but Hermiston came back to tie it up just before halftime, and finally pulled away with a 2-1 victory.
“We started off sloppy,” said sophomore midfielder Alexis Leal. “We came in with big heads. I think we expected to send it every time. We were playing long ball.”
Those expectations weren’t unjustified — the Falcons were without a single win all the way through the preseason (0-6). Meanwhile, the Bulldogs were going in with a 1-4 overall record.
But the Falcons got off to a hot start when freshman midfielder Ethan Henning kicked a goal in not 8 minutes into the game. They would hold the 1-0 advantage for 24 minutes until Bulldog junior midfielder Coleman Solano assisted sophomore forward Moises Lopez for a goal to knot the score.
“We came out strong for those first couple of minutes,” said Hermiston coach Rich Harshberger, “but then we went back on our heels. That’s how they (Hanford) got their goal.”
With the score tied at 1-1 at the half, Harshberger knew something had to change.
“We came in thinking we would send it. We weren’t playing our usual system,” he said. “That was the main message at the half — we don’t play long ball. That’s not who we are. That’s not an option. The boys really responded to that, and stepped it up in the second half.”
At 18:39 in the second half, senior midfielder Emilio Leal drove the ball down the field, gearing up to put a goal in, but soon found himself cornered by a Hanford defender.
He eyed an opening and passed the ball to Alexis Leal, who kicked in an easy goal to push the Bulldogs out front.
“If we were going to win this game, we couldn’t just hang our heads and give in early,” Alexis Leal said. “We needed to come back and start playing together, as a team. That’s what made the difference for us in that second half.”
Alexis Leal finished the night with three shots off goal, and only one on. Senior goalie Juan Navarrete posted two saves.
Hermiston will continue in league play on Friday with a home game against Southridge, who are still looking for their season’s first win.
“In the league, there are no easy games,” Harshberger said. “We’re a solid team, but we’re still improving game by game. We’re starting to get that team chemistry back.”