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Knights defeat Wahluke in SCAC district final

by IAN BIVONA
Sports Reporter | May 14, 2024 2:00 AM

TOPPENISH — The second half of Saturday’s South Central Athletic Conference district championship game came to a wild finish, as the Royal Knights overcame a late game-tying goal by Wahluke to defeat the Warriors 3-2 in Toppenish.

“This is an every year back-and-forth, back-and-forth with these guys, and to lose twice to them in the season by one goal, you feel a little like you deserve to get a win here,” Royal head coach Jens Jensen said. “To get it, that’s special. We’re jacked up and looking forward now, but we’re going to enjoy this for a few days.”

Trailing 2-1 in the 73rd minute, Wahluke junior Luis Corona got past the Royal defense and scored to tie the game at two late in the match. 

“The good news is we’re not losing,” Jensen said. “If this thing has to go to a shootout, I guess it goes to a shootout. But then (Royal senior Santiago Gonzalez) came up with a moment of brilliance.”

In second-half stoppage time, Gonzalez received a pass from a teammate, turned around to create space for a lined-up shot onto the Warrior net.

“To get that chance at the end — it was a good through ball, I’m not sure who sent that to me — but I was able to finish it,” Gonzalez said. “It was crazy, but I loved it.”

The senior’s goal put the Knights up 3-2, later holding on to that lead to claim the SCAC district title.

“We’re trying all kinds of different things to find the right combination, and I think we found some things that work,” Jensen said. 

Wahluke struck first in Saturday’s district final, as senior Brian Herrera scored on a breakaway in the game’s second minute for an early 1-0 lead. Royal equalized in the 15th minute on a goal from sophomore Anderson Brown.

“I got the ball, took a touch, it was a little bouncy — saw the keeper and he wasn’t in a good spot,” Brown said. “I wanted to go top left but I didn’t hit it really good and it went bottom left, but it got the boys going.”

After Brown’s goal, both teams went into the half tied at one.

“Credit to the boys for overcoming; you’ve got to overcome that and fight back,” Jensen said. “They fight back, get a goal and make it even. Go to halftime, and it’s like, ‘We aren’t losing. This is even, so no more mistakes.’”

The first 25 minutes of the second half remained scoreless until a Royal corner kick led to senior Miguel Soriano scoring on a header to give the Knights their first lead of the match.

“It was a great ball from Ernesto (Deras),” Soriano said. “I saw it coming straight to me and had to smash it in.”

Wahluke defeated Royal in both of the prior matchups this season; a 2-1 win on March 26 and a 1-0 win on April 23.

“We lost to Mattawa twice, so to get over that hump and knowing that we can beat anybody — the first round of state it’s loser-out, so we need to have that confidence now,” Gonzalez said. “We can’t lose anymore.”

Royal reached the district title game after defeating Highland 1-0 on the road May 7, with senior Jose Victoriano scoring the game’s lone goal in second-half stoppage time.

“The ball gets through, squirts through, the Highland defender slides to tackle and when he tackles, he pushes it right into Jose Victoriano’s feet,” Jensen said. “He’s coming forward in the near post — in stoppage time, it was awesome.”

Seeding for the 1A State Boys Soccer Tournament was released Sunday; Royal earned the No. 3 seed, while Wahluke was seeded No. 6. If both teams win their first-round match — Wahluke plays No. 11 Seton Catholic and Royal plays the winner of a play-in match between No. 14 King’s Way Christian and No. 19 Meridian — Wahluke and Royal will play for the fourth time this season, facing off in the state quarterfinals.

“There’s a good respect for each other, but it’s a competitive respect,” Jensen said.

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

Box score

ROY: 1-2 3
WAH: 1-1 2

    Wahluke senior Brian Herrera (8) rushes past the Royal defense, later scoring the game’s opening goal on a breakaway in the second minute of Saturday’s match.
 
 
 
    Royal senior Santiago Gonzalez (12) turns around to create space between himself and Wahluke defenders before firing off a shot to score the game-winning goal against the Warriors on Saturday.
 
 
    Wahluke players celebrate after junior Luis Corona (13) scored a game-tying goal in the 73rd minute.