Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
Both teams had a number of scoring chances but, as it has gone for most of the season, North Medford was able to capitalize a little more than rival South Medford in a thrilling back-and-forth boys soccer tilt Tuesday at Spiegelberg Stadium.
The Black Tornado used a pair of goals in the final 25 minutes to break a 1-all tie and upend the crosstown Panthers, 3-1, and force a three-way tie for first place in the Southern Oregon Hybrid standings.
"It's a good step in conference because now we're back on level ground, and it's a good building block for our team," said North Medford senior Garrett Byrd, who registered a pair of assists in the clash. "Hopefully we can use this to progress and go forward."
The second round of SOH action begins next Tuesday for the Tornado and Panthers, who now find themselves tied for first with Grants Pass with 3-1 conference records. Grants Pass' lone loss came against South Medford, while the Cavemen recently topped North Medford.
"I felt going into this season it would probably be a three-horse race between us and North and Grants Pass," said South Medford head coach Dave Kaufman. "And as it sits now, we've all kind of socked each other in the eye so I think the next round will be interesting. But that's what makes it fun."
Playing under the spotlight of the Spiegelberg lights, neither North nor South disappointed an energetic crowd on this chilly night. Whether it was the fancy footwork from the likes of Uriel Cordoba of the Panthers or Benito Torres-Mata of the Tornado, or the all-out hustle from South's Jeff Turner, Adrian Calvillo and Colt Sauers matched by North's Christian Siordia, Austin Schoenmann and Louis Michelon, each school's players put it all on the line.
"It's a dogfight, always, with South Medford," said North Medford head coach Michael Belzberg. "That's the way it's always been for years and it always will be and should be. It was nice that we got to play under the lights and these guys got to feel like real quality athletes out there."
"I think my guys played outstanding and did a great job tonight," he added, "But credit South, too, they were physical and they played hard and are well-coached. We stuck to the game plan and some of our guys tonight played like stars."
North Medford (6-1-2, 3-1 SOH) struck first in unlikely fashion when Nicolas Carbonell raced to win a free ball and dropped it to Byrd near the left sideline. The senior co-captain surveyed the field and sent a crossing pass toward reserve forward Daniel Schuler that looked to be thwarted, but South's Travis Mobley came up empty on his clearing attempt. With nothing but open space and a one-on-one opportunity with Panther goalkeeper Hunter Soper, Schuler capitalized with a one-touch effort in the 32nd minute.
"Daniel was working hard and I saw him open over there," said Byrd. "I played the ball and it was a little short but the defender misplayed it and it went to him and luckily he was able to finish it. It was a tough game but the bounces went our way tonight."
The goal was key in energizing the Black Tornado sideline and allowed North to take a 1-0 advantage into halftime.
"Daniel Schuler coming in on that wing and scoring that first goal was really big," said Belzberg. "Every day in practice and in games he's been hitting those things so hard, wide and over, but finally tonight he just connected."
South Medford (4-2-2, 3-1) made sure that advantage was short-lived, however, with a great surge out of intermission. Mobley earned a measure of redemption by pressing forward and playing a ball toward the middle to Sauers, who attempted to rocket a ball at the goal but had it blocked by a charging defender. Panthers junior Logan Artner, however, was right there to trap the deflection and send a shot just over the goal line before a clearance attempt by Carbonell in the 45th minute.
"He's got a great nose for the goal and for being there at opportune times," Kaufman said of Artner. "That's how he's scored a lot of his goals for us."
Artner was also part of a scary scene 13 minutes later when he broke hard for a through ball by Calvillo and wound up in a head-to-head collision with North defender Cole Owings that sent both players to the turf. Artner and Owings each remained down on the field for a few minutes before getting helped off the pitch. Neither player returned but Artner appeared to get the worst of the collision on what looked like a potential scoring opportunity.
"It's unfortunate that he got injured later because I really felt that something good was coming from that action," said Kaufman.
The Black Tornado had regained the advantage only three minutes earlier when Byrd's long throw-in was re-directed into the goal on a near-post header by Carter Ehlers in the 55th minute.
"I just came right to the front and nobody was on me and called for it from 'G' and he just threw it to me perfectly," said Ehlers, who was stonewalled on a couple first-half shots by Soper. "I was very surprised, the angle was very tough."
Byrd had a number of long throw-ins that resulted in some tension inside the box for the Panthers, but that was the only one North would convert.
"I guess I've got a big throw and whenever we have it up there we utilize it basically the same as a corner kick," said Byrd. "We try to use that as an extra attack. I'm not gonna lie, I just hucked it in there and he found it I guess."
Cordoba narrowly missed a hard, curling free kick from 25 yards out that would have tied the game with eight minutes to play. Siordia then sealed the victory for North on a giveaway following a goal kick where a pair of South players weren't on the same page and the Tornado co-captain gathered the ball, split the defense and fired a nice low shot into the net with 2:29 to play.
"Mistakes happen in this game and generally those that have the least amount are the ones that come out on top," added Kaufman.
The 3-1 ledger didn't tell the story of the night for Soper, who made several impressive saves on rocketed shots by the Tornado. He also was aided on a corner kick that reached Schuler when Mobley gave up his body to block the effort and then cleared the ball before it crossed the goal line.
North sophomore Eric Benitez was tested but didn't have to make as many saves as his counterpart in goal after most of South's shots went off frame.
"In a game like this, you get minimal opportunities and if you don't score on them it makes it challenging," added Kaufman.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry