Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
South Medford used an impenetrable defense and an opportunistic offense to advance in the Class 6A boys soccer playoffs Friday.
Felipe Sanchez's goal on a free kick seven minutes into the first-round game proved all the Panthers would need en route to a 3-0 victory against the South Salem Saxons at Spiegelberg Stadium.
South Medford (11-3) will play the winner of today's Clackamas-North Salem game in the Round of 16 on Tuesday. If Clackamas wins, the Panthers will be on the road. They would host in the event North Salem is the victor. Home team is determined by the OSAA power ranking system.
Sanchez capitalized on the free kick with a boot into the high-center of the net from about 25 yards away after the Saxons (5-4-6) fouled Jeff Turner early in the game.
"I practice those all the time," said Sanchez, a senior forward. "I was super confident. I felt it."
South Medford coach Dave Kaufmann explained Sanchez is one of four Panther players who will take that kick and he leaves it to those on the field to decide at the moment.
"(Sanchez) is our most consistent," said Kaufmann. "He's made four or five this year. The game is so much about feeling. So if you're confident, take it."
In the first half, South Medford had more scoring chances (4-1) and had a slight edge in possession over the third-place team out of the Central Valley Conference.
"We had to keep our intensity up, you can't let down," said Sanchez about the Panthers' mindset after taking the lead. "We had the most opportunities but the next goal would dictate everything — if they get back in it or not."
Panther first-year goalkeeper Hunter Soper denied South Salem's best chance on a one-on-one situation with Joe Corner at the 31:30 mark of the opening period.
Corner, a freshman forward, found himself open with the ball after it glanced off a Panther defender with only Soper between him and the net. Soper came out and stopped Corner's point-blank shot right at his midsection at the top of the goalie box.
"I was thinking, 'I'm not going to give up a goal,'" said Soper.
Soper had praise for the Panther defenders — Luis Ayala, Caleb Wright, Adrian Calvillo and Jose Cabrera — who kept him out of danger throughout most of the match.
"Our defense got the ball out when they needed to and up when they needed to," said the freshman Soper.
South Medford scored the critical next goal on a penalty kick by Greg Rapet in the 67th minute.
The penalty was called when Saxon goalie Josh Fuentes collided with Sanchez, who had received a pass from Humberto Alvarez, just inside the 18-yard box. The South Salem coaches put up a brief argument against the penalty kick, claiming Fuentes was outside the box when he made contact with Sanchez.
"He just took me down," explained Sanchez. "Otherwise, I would have been gone."
Rapet calmly gathered himself and sent a low line drive into the left side of the net for a 2-0 Panther lead.
"He's ice," said Kaufmann of Rapet. "He doesn't know what pressure really is."
The Panthers' third goal was set up by Alvarez dribbling down the middle through several Saxon defenders and passing to an open Colt Sauers on the wing. Sauers was able to gather the bouncing ball and finish the shot high into the goal.
"They were the better team," said South Salem veteran coach Eric Johansen, whose team defeated South Medford 2-1 in the 2009 state finals. "They played strong, physical and fast. They were good on the ball and created chances. When you do that, usually good things happen."
South Medford sophomore Uriel Cordoba, who was instrumental in helping the Panthers control the midfield, had to be helped off after being knocked to the turf during in a mid-air collision with South Salem's Stephen Anderson early in the second half. Cordoba, who was down on the ground for about 10 minutes, was taken to the hospital and was diagnosed with a concussion.
"It was a spirited effort by everybody," said Kaufmann. "Our defense was much more organized and did everything we asked them to do.
"At this point, you don't get a lot of opportunities," added Kaufmann, "but we made the most out of the ones we got."
Reach reporter Frank Silow at 541-776-4480 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org