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Wahluke advances to district final, state with win over Toppenish

by IAN BIVONA
Sports Reporter | May 8, 2024 4:39 PM

MATTAWA — It took a penalty shootout to determine the winner of Tuesday’s South Central Athletic Conference district tournament semifinal, where Wahluke outscored Toppenish 4-2 in penalty kicks to defeat the Wildcats 3-2. 

Wahluke surrendered two second-half goals that sent the match into overtime.

“I’m really happy that we can get over a mistake,” Wahluke head coach Lopez said. “We had two really bad mistakes, and we didn’t stay there sitting down and crying — we turned around, and we kept fighting. That means a lot; as a team, that means a lot that we can fight until the end.”

After neither side scored a goal in the two overtime periods, both Wahluke and Toppenish locked their eyes on the goal on the east end of the field; Wahluke’s first two attempts were good, as freshman Icker Lopez and sophomore Rafael Rodriguez both scored. After junior Alvaro Rodriguez’s attempt was blocked, senior Diego Olivares pushed the shootout lead to 3-1. 

Senior Brian Herrera stepped up to the penalty mark to seal the win for Wahluke, burying his shot in the back of the net for the victory.

“We knew that this game was an important game,” Herrera said. “We knew that we had to pull it off and advance on in this tournament. We knew we had to fight hard, and we knew we had to win it.”

Wahluke goalkeeper Haziel Sandoval blocked two Toppenish shots during the shootout. Lopez credited the senior for being able to turn around and put up a strong performance after the Wildcats scored two second-half goals, one of which bounced off of Sandoval’s hands.

“He made a mistake — you don’t want to see a keeper doing that — and then he got up and turned it around,” Lopez said. “I’m really proud of Haziel. This is his first time playing organized soccer, so this is huge for him.”

Before the shootout began, Sandoval took a moment to amp himself up.

“Just try,” Sandoval said. “Believe in yourself. If you make a mistake, don’t give up — I knew I made a mistake, and I didn’t give up.”

The Warriors opened Tuesday’s semifinal match with an early goal by Rodriguez, followed by a goal from Olivares in the 32nd minute. Wahluke went into halftime with a 2-0 lead.

“Having two goals in the first half was huge for us,” Lopez said. 

After halftime, the two teams flipped sides of the field; on a windy day in Mattawa, which featured gusts up to 43 miles per hour according to the National Weather Service, Toppenish now had the wind at its back and used it to its advantage, scoring goals in the 46th and 62nd minutes. The latter goal was scored off a free kick near midfield, as the wind carried the ball toward the Warrior net.

“It’s really hard to play even offense on the wind,” Lopez said. “You have to measure the goalie and this and that. The wind made the difference; we scored two (with) the wind, they scored two (with) the wind.”

Even though Wahluke has one game remaining in the SCAC district tournament – a final matchup against rival Royal on Saturday — the Warriors punched their ticket to the 1A State Boys Soccer Tournament for the sixth consecutive season with Tuesday’s win.

“There’s a lot of kids looking up to these players,” Lopez said. “We need to win something like that for the community and for our families as well — and for the program. This is a huge program. Everyone that knows Mattawa, they talk about soccer. Hopefully, we can pull it out this year.”

With their spot in the state tournament already secured, sights have been set on a deep run.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Herrera said. “We come from a small school, and as you see (on the banner) we haven’t (won) state since 2011. Getting to state is a huge accomplishment, but we definitely need to get more.”

Kickoff between Wahluke and Royal is at 6 p.m. at Toppenish High School on Saturday. The Knights also booked their ticket to the 1A State Boys Soccer Tournament on Tuesday, defeating Highland 1-0 on the road. 

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

Box score

TOP: 0-2-0 2
WAH: 2-0-0 2

PKs:
WAH: 1-1-0-1-1 4
TOP: 1-0-0-1-X 2


    Wahluke junior Alvaro Rodriguez (4) looks to weave his way through two Toppenish defenders in Tuesday’s match against the Wildcats.
 
 
    Wahluke junior Luis Corona (13) rushes past a Toppenish defender in the first half of Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout win over the Wildcats.
 
 
    Wahluke senior Diego Olivares (9) scored Wahluke’s second goal of the game late in the first half on Tuesday.