Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
North Medford junior forward Christian Siordia scored the go-ahead goal in the 73rd minute and the Black Tornado survived three dangerous attacks by Ashland over the last eight-plus minutes to pull out a 3-2 nonconference boys soccer victory Tuesday at Hoffbuhr Field.
Ashland was awarded two corner kicks late and nearly burned North Medford with a last-gasp deep ball with 30 seconds to go, but each attempt was thwarted by a Tornado defense that allowed just five shots on goal, including one in the first half.
Siordia's goal capitalized on North's most prolonged offensive surge of the second half and proved to be the game-winner in a back-and-forth affair that twice saw the Grizzlies tie the game after falling a goal behind. The quick-thinking Siordia took advantage of a brief lapse in Ashland's defense after gathering the ball just inside the 18-yard box, his back to the goal mouth, front and center.
"My teammates told me to turn so once I turned I saw the open shot, so I took it," Siordia said.
The ball floated nicely into the upper right corner of the net just past Ashland keeper Ross Kandaris, whose diving save attempt came up empty.
"That last one was just a beautifully placed ball," said North Medford coach Michael Belzberg, whose team remained undefeated at 3-0-1. "We've been working in practice with the guys not killing it, just placing it where it needs to be."
The shot was North's third and final on-goal attempt of the second half and eighth of the game.
"Everybody gets hot sometimes," Belzberg said. "They can be cold, but I think we've been hot more than not. It helps."
The strike turned the momentum back in North's favor after the Grizzlies tied the game early in the second half and several times came close to taking the lead.
The Grizzlies (1-1), who have scored eight goals in two games, scored the equalizer in the 53rd minute when senior halfback Zahara Moyers-Cullumbine dribbled through two defenders in the box and right-footed in a hard, low shot from close range.
Moyers-Cullumbine, who also scored the Grizzlies' first goal in the 35th minute of the first half, recovered from a miss-hit to knot the score at 2-2.
"Luckily I was faster than the (defender)," he said. "I kind of trapped it and missed it, so I sprinted past that guy and I just hit it as close as I could to the goal. It was a shot, but I was kind of hoping if I didn't hit it right it would go for a cross."
The score was the highlight of a second-half surge that had Ashland playing the role of aggressor. The Grizzlies had three solid scoring opportunities over the next 17 minutes, including Moyers-Cullumbine's 25-yard rocket that was saved in the 71st minute. But the Tornado survived each, leading to Siordia's strike.
Siordia also assisted on the Tornado's first goal, a one-versus-one laser by junior forward Ryan Hogan that skidded past Kandaris. The long run was set up suddenly by Siordia's long-bomb pass to the sprinting Hogan, who caught the Ashland defense napping.
"I turned and I saw the open space so I sent it to (Hogan)," Siordia said. "He knew how to finish it. He's a great finisher."
Ashland's response came seven minutes later when Moyers-Cullumbine found himself on the receiving end of a nice pass by senior halfback Diego Harrison. The Grizzlies started the run with a deep pass to Andres Garcia, who found freshman Stenley Graham, who dished to Harrison. Moyers-Cullumbine's 10-yard rocket was Ashland's only on-goal attempt of the first half.
The Tornado reclaimed the lead just before halftime, four minutes later, when one captain, senior defender Jose Mendoza, passed to another captain, senior midfielder Garrett Byrd, who then crossed to senior midfielder Chris Stover for the point-blank shot. Kandaris tried to snuff out the play before it developed, but could only get his fingertips on Byrd's perfectly placed cross.
"I'm really proud of these guys," Belzberg said. "They all stepped up, they all worked really hard and got a good result. Ashland's always competitive. They're a great team and they're going to have a great season. It was a great game, a battle."