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MILWAUKIE — A bizarre goal in the final minute of the first half forced Phoenix to alter its game plan and La Salle capitalized, pulling away for a 4-0 victory Tuesday in a Class 4A boys soccer state semifinal.
David Lillie's score following an indirect kick just 6 yards in front of the goal in the 40th minute gave La Salle a 2-0 lead and proved to be the catalyst for the Falcons, as Phoenix kept only three defenders back in the second half in desperate attempt to crawl back into contention.
The win advances La Salle (16-2), the Tri-Valley Conference runner-up, into Saturday's state championship round, where it will face Philomath at Liberty High School.
Phoenix (13-2-1), which suffered its first setback since Sept. 15 (a span of 12 games), fell one win short of returning to the finals, where it suffered a 1-0 loss to Molalla last season.
"We were one win away from the big show, but I'm so proud of these kids because they did so well," Phoenix head coach Dennis Flenner said. "We had a really good run at it and we worked really hard and played some tough 6A schools, but this game is very competitive and you can't blink, because when you do they'll tag you and that's what happened (Tuesday)."
The most costly blink occurred with only seconds remaining in the first half. As the Pirates tried to clear the ball out of the box, a defender fell on the ball. The referees awarded La Salle an indirect kick, and Lillie took the quick pass and hammered the point-blank shot home to give his team a two-goal lead and a jolt of momentum heading into the break.
"At that point, we could have closed it down," Flenner said, "but, as my assistant coach said, losing 2-0 to us at that point is no different than losing 12-0, and we didn't come here to walk away with a losing score — we came here to (win). And that's the fragility of this game. Sometimes you can't get it back when you give up goals."
La Salle immediately took advantage of Phoenix's risky strategy, scoring only seven minutes into the second half when Dakota Eisel controlled the ball on a breakaway and steered in a far-post shot to give the Falcons a 3-0 cushion.
In the 67th, Greg Manzano's corner shot capped the scoring.
Afterward, Flenner praised the effort of Phoenix defenders Johnny Esqueda, Jesus DeLaCruz and Eddy Arevalo.
"They were just warriors," Flenner said, "and they never looked over to me and said, 'What did you do?' I'm just so proud of them, but they got punched pretty hard today."
OREGON EPISCOPAL 3, ST. MARY'S 0 — At Portland, St. Mary's and Oregon Episcopal were scoreless at halftime but the Aardvarks pulled away with three second-half goals in the Class 3A/2A/1A state semifinal match.
Anastasiya Chevtchenko put Oregon Episcopal (13-1-2) on the scoreboard first in the 49th minute after cashing in on a corner kick. The Crusaders (11-3-3) arrived to the ball first and cleared it to the top of the 18-yard line, but with the area unmarked, Chevtchenko one-touched a sharp shot into the back of the net.
OES added goals in the 55th minute by Erica Massaro and in the 63rd minute by Carolyn Ruoff.
Midway through the second half, St. Mary's Emily Elmore drove down the field on a breakaway with a defender on her hip. She managed to get a shot off, but it wasn't strong enough.
Oregon Episcopal defeated St. Mary's 5-1 in last year's semifinals en route to capturing the state championship. The Crusaders beat OES 4-1 in a semifinal match in 2010.
"We needed to change the play of the match from a year ago when they dominated us," St. Mary's head coach Dave Potter said. "So we doubled up defenders on their two forwards and frustrated them mightily in the first half. By the end of the first half they had worked so hard and managed to cut off a lot of passes and frustrated their attacking forwards. During the entire first half, only one player broke through our defensive line."
Defensive credit was given to marking backs Mikenna Conway, Sophia Dewing and Rose Alvarez and, in front of them, Emily Frank and Emily Alvarez doubling up on forwards. Central defender/sweeper McKenna Barnum helped to balance the D.
In goal, goalkeeper Viv Juncal faced four fast shots.
"The girls played highly intelligent soccer," Potter said.
The Aardvarks will take on Valley Catholic — which beat Glide 1-0 on Tuesday — on Saturday at Liberty High in Hillsboro.