Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
A stout defense and an opportunistic offense provided the right combination for North Medford's boys soccer team during Tuesday's Southern Oregon Hybrid showdown with South Medford at Hoffbuhr Field.
Sparked by the outstanding play in goal by Joe Siordia, the Black Tornado was able to thwart the scoring efforts of the SOH's most prolific team and countered with a pair of second half goals of its own — built more on hustle than any fancy footwork — en route to a 2-0 triumph.
Tuesday's outcome helped settle a tie atop the SOH, with each team coming in with unbeaten records, and allowed North Medford (7-0-1, 4-0 SOH) to gain only its fourth win in the past 13 meetings with the crosstown Panthers (7-1, 3-1).
"It's a big confidence booster for our team as we go forward and it was a real team effort," said North Medford junior forward Garrett Byrd, who scored the go-ahead goal in the 43rd minute. "Now we've got a target on our back and we've got to keep playing with the same level of intensity all the way through the season."
Junior forward Christian Siordia tacked on an insurance goal in the 51st minute and allowed the defensive-minded Black Tornado to settle back even further into its own zone to deny the Panthers, who had scored 31 goals in seven prior games.
"It's never easy against them," said North Medford senior defender Jose Mendoza, who anchored the back line with his gritty play. "That's probably the hardest game we'll have until state. Defense has been something we've been working on since Day 1, really getting a solid platform, and it was a solid group effort in the end."
South Medford had the better opportunities in the opening 40 minutes but wound up having its shots sail wide of the goal or blocked by the Black Tornado's back wall, which had allowed only four goals leading up to Tuesday's contest.
Greg Alegria, Greg Rapet and Jeff Turner appeared to have the best buildups for the Panthers in the opening half, and South Medford really turned up the intensity with its best scoring chances inside the final five minutes of play.
A steal by Rene Cabrera led to a cross for Herman Menendez that the junior couldn't get a good foot on in the middle of the box, but Turner was in perfect position to back him up. Turner sent a low strike to the far post that was denied when senior Joe Siordia fully extended his right hand on a diving effort and somehow pinned the ball to the ground for a save.
"Joe played lights out tonight," said North Medford head coach Michael Belzberg of his keeper, who had nine saves overall. "He's worked super hard, he's sacrificed a lot and him and his brother (Christian) both love the game and are amazing kids."
Two minutes later, Turner split the defense of Cole Owings and Nicolas Carbonell and sent a nice cross to Menendez that was blasted just over the crossbar to help send the teams scoreless into intermission.
Belzberg encouraged his team at halftime that their time would come if they continued to play hard and that's exactly what happened in the 43rd minute in an immediate response to a point-blank shot by South Medford's Felipe Sanchez that was blocked by Joe Siordia.
After a long outlet pass by senior Leonardo Alonzo, Christian Siordia scrambled for position in the box with South defender Adrian Calvillo, who was able to flick the ball out to the top of the box but right where Byrd was waiting. The junior quickly settled the ball and blistered a shot to the far right edge of the post that ricocheted into the net past Hunter Soper, who simply had no chance on the ball.
"The defense cleared it back out and I just took it on the chest and hit it hard and tried to put it on frame and it went in," said Byrd of his goal at 43:08.
The score set off a huge celebration among the North players, with Byrd soon becoming a casualty to his own good deed with a bruised right thigh that forced him to the sideline for the rest of the match.
"I jumped up in the celebration and my teammate kneed me in the leg," said Byrd. "It's pretty swollen but I'll be ready for Tuesday. It was worth it, though."
The Black Tornado struck again at the 51:27 mark on a free kick after Caleb Wright was saddled with a yellow card for a dangerous mid-air challenge. Mendoza sent a soaring ball toward Christian Siordia on the left edge of the goal box that was looped out by the defense. It wasn't sent far enough as junior Daniel Schuler hustled to the ball and, with his back to the goal, lofted a high backwards kick over his head.
With some uncertainty on South's back line on how to play the ball, Christian Siordia sliced his way into position and supplied a simple side jab to the ball inches before it hit the ground. That little touch was just enough to catch Soper off guard and the ball rolled slowly but surely into the open goal for a 2-0 advantage.
"He just worked really hard on offense and defense and the opportunity came and he took it," Byrd said of Siordia's goal.
The Panthers tried to double their efforts on offense but, with North's entire team essentially back into its own zone, the space to manufacture good combinations was limited. Even when someone would break through, Mendoza, Benito Torres or Alonzo would find a way to send the ball back upfield.
"Mike has them organized and playing well," Kaufman said of his former player, now turned coaching peer. "It was a great win for them. We played well enough to win. They got a couple breaks and scored and their goalkeeper had a couple great saves, that's just how it rolls sometimes."
"I'm not disappointed necessarily with how we played or didn't play," added the South coach. "This is the joy of sports, somebody steps up and today it happened to be their day. We'll see them again and it'll be another barnburner I'm sure."
Belzberg left equally impressed with the efforts on both sides of the field, noting that it's often the little things that provide the difference when comparable teams square off.
"Both teams battled extremely hard," said the North coach. "When we had our opportunities, we kinda finished and sometimes it's just that type of game. Sometimes you're nailing them and sometimes the other team's nailing them, and today we kinda put it in the back of the net."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry