MILTON-FREEWATER - McLoughlin boys' soccer coach Jose Garcia should be glad to know that his team hasn't blown out any of the other teams in its half of the State Championship bracket.
Playing their last regular season game before next Tuesday's home state playoff game against Henley, the Pioneers again had to scramble to tie a team they had defeated handily earlier in the season.
Down 3-1 at halftime Tuesday to the Riverside Pirates, a team they had beaten 8-1 earlier in the season, the Pioneers needed nearly the entire the second half to draw even as Jose Corona scored his team-leading 39th goal in the 78th minute on a header to tie the game at 3-3.
The Pioneers (12-1-2, 8-0-1 GOL) controlled the tempo the entire half, out-shooting the Pirates (11-2-1, 11-1 SD5) 25-3, but some great saves from Pirate goalkeeper Alberto Ruiz and some not-so-great shots from the home team kept the game's outcome in question until the final whistle.
"We made some mistakes at the defensive area and I think that was the difference at the end of the game," Riverside coach Carlos Velasco said. "We got the momentum in the first half but in the second half they took over. I think it's fair, the score, for both of us."
"It's frustrating ... because we know we have to score," Corona said of the Pioneers' dominant second half that yielded just two goals. "Looking at the time is a bad thing. We just had to play our game."
The Pioneers actually controlled the ball most of the first half too, but it was Riverside's quick-strike ability that gave them the edge at intermission.
The Pirates, which had their own home tournament game to prep for, found themselves on the defensive from the opening kick. But a momentary lapse in marking by the Pioneers was all they needed to land the first blow when a wide-open Juan Colin went low for a header into the back side of the net in the second minute.
"We weren't pressuring the ball, we were just giving them all the space," Garcia said. "Again, we go back to the La Grande game. The same thing happened here."
The Pioneers tied the score in the 13th minute when Oscar Flores dropped the ball to Christian Corona near the sideline 30 yards out, Corona moved it on to Miguel Garcia in the middle, and Garcia beat a man before unleashing a hummer into the bottom left corner of the net.
The Pirates' second goal came when Iovanni Barrera fed a streaking Hugo Morales in the middle of the Pioneer defense and Morales got just enough on the ball to slip it past Mac-Hi's Arnaldo Alvarez and inside the far post.
Barrera set up their next goal two minutes later when it took the Pirates three touches to move more than half the field. Off a direct kick on their own side of midfield, Barrera tipped the ball to Francisco Martinez near the top of the penalty box on the right side, and Martinez kicked it into the far side.
Mac-Hi's second goal came in the 56th minute when Flores headed a Jose Herrera corner kick in from the back side.
The Pirates will host the No. 3 team out of Special District 4 next Tuesday.