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Huskies defeat Ephrata, take second in CWAC

by IAN BIVONA
Sports Reporter | April 25, 2024 3:50 PM

OTHELLO — Even with one game remaining on the schedule, the Othello boys soccer team locked up a second-place finish in the Central Washington Athletic Conference, giving the Huskies a first-round bye in next week’s district tournament. 

Othello finished second to East Valley (Yakima) for the second straight season.

“The guys, they’re excited about the playoffs,” Othello Head Coach Bernie Garza said. “It’s a little frustrating and disappointing finishing second again this year, and to the same team – to East Valley – but if you look at what we’ve done, it’s very encouraging. We finished second in the league, which is nothing to be ashamed about.”

The Huskies (10-5-1) have won three consecutive games ahead of Thursday’s regular-season finale on the road against Ellensburg; a 6-0 win over Cashmere, a 4-1 defeat of Selah and Tuesday’s 3-1 win over Ephrata.

Against the Bulldogs, senior Felipe Haro (twice), junior Asaph Alfaro, junior Ruben Mancilla, junior Larry Maldonado and senior Don Eldred all scored in the April 18 home win. 

“We ask ourselves, ‘Are we peaking right now, are we where we’re supposed to?’” Garza said. “I think we’re peaking, but we’re not there yet. The Cashmere (game), I think that was one of our best games. Our goalkeeping, our defense, our offense was good. We were running on all cylinders as they say.”

Following the win over Selah where senior Anthony Abundiz, Maldonado (twice) and sophomore John Reyes all scored in a 4-1 win, the Huskies hosted Ephrata on Tuesday in their final home game of the regular season. Coming off a scoreless first half, Othello netted goals from Abundiz, sophomore Luis Farias and senior Cristian Torres to ride out to a 3-1 win over the Tigers.

“It wasn’t a dominant performance, that last game, but it showed character,” Garza said. “Teams are going to bunker down and defend at all costs, but we’ve got to find a way to score a goal – and we did find a way to score three goals.”

During the recent wins, Garza noted the back line of Eldred, senior Jesus Bonilla and senior Aksel Jebsen as standouts.

“Those three, that center defense, they’ve been rock solid,” Garza said. “Our offense has been clicking too with Cristian Torres, Felipe Haro and Larry Maldonado – the past couple games, (Maldonado’s) been on fire – but the main thing has been Jesus Bonilla, Don Eldred and Aksel (Jebsen). They’ve been tough; everybody says this, it sounds like a cliche, but defense wins championships.”

With an 8-3 record in league contests, Othello secured its second-place finish with the April 20 win over Selah; by taking second, Othello has a first-round bye and a home playoff game May 2.

By not playing in the opening round on Tuesday, Garza said it creates added practice time and gives players the chance to focus on their school work.

“It’s a big positive to have those extra days and not have that pressure of a loser-out type of scenario,” Garza said. “... It gives us a break for guys to get healthy, it gives us some healing time and it gives some of the players opportunities to handle their academic stuff.”

With the extra practice time, plus junior varsity coaches joining the coaching staff, it allows for coaches to focus on more individual skills with players. 

“Before, we’re (practicing) overall offense, defense,” Garza said. “We don’t have as much time to work with individual players and drills as much as we will these next couple of days.”

Ahead of Tuesday’s game against Ephrata, nine Othello seniors were recognized on the team’s senior night; Torres, Abundiz, Haro, Alex Gonzalez, Cristian Lopez, Jack Sorenson, Eldred, Bonilla, Jesus Chavez, Troy Mendez and Jebsen. 

“We’ve had like five or six four-year seniors that have been here the whole time, and it’s a blessing,” Garza said. 

Ian Bivona may be reached at ibivona@columbiabasinherald.com. 

    Othello senior Jesus Bonilla, right, defends against Ephrata sophomore Junior Chavez Mendoza Jr., left. Othello Head Coach Bernie Garza said the back line of Bonilla, senior Don Eldred and goalkeeper Aksel Jebsen have been playing well during Othello’s three-game win streak.
 
 
    Ephrata senior Jaedon Truscott (11) clears the ball out from in front of the Tiger net during Tuesday’s match against Othello.