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 boys soccer coach Michael Belzberg offered a few words of advice at halftime of his team's match against cross-town rival South Medford at Hoffbuhr Field on Saturday.
Mostly though, Belzberg said, he let his seniors lead the way as the squad exited intermission in a scoreless tie.
"I let them take control," Belzberg said.
His trust paid off.
The Black Tornado made a few adjustments and topped the Panthers, 2-1, to sweep the series and clinch the Southern Oregon Hybrid title outright for a second straight year.
North Medford (11-1-2, 7-1 SOH), runner-up Grants Pass (8-3-3, 6-2) and third-place South Medford (7-4-2, 5-3) all automatically qualified for the first round of the Class 6A state playoffs, which begin Saturday.
Play-in matches for the remaining teams in the league begin Tuesday.
Carter Ehlers, whom Belzberg moved up from a defensive position, recorded the go-ahead goal in the 55th minute on a Garrett Byrd throw-in. Ehlers used the outside of his left foot to place the 12-yard try after making a run behind his defender.
About 15 minutes later, North reserve Marco Cortez headed the ball in from close range after a Louis Michelon free kick.
"A 2-0 lead is the most deadly lead you can have," Belzberg said. "It is really easy to lose it."
South made a push with a late goal by Uriel Cordoba in the 77th minute, but North held on during the final few minutes to win. Sweeper David McLittle used a long dribble to help time expire.
"They didn't give up," Belzberg said.
North goalkeeper Eric Benitez made a couple strong saves, including a tough stop on a Cordoba shot 10 minutes into the contest. Midfielders Austin Schoenmann and Benito Torres both turned in outstanding efforts, Belzberg said.
"They did the heavy lifting," he said.
For South, defender Jeff Turner competed strong through illness and midfielder Adrian Calvillo helped give the Panthers several chances, South head coach Dave Kaufman said.
The Black Tornado beat the Panthers, 3-1, on Oct. 1.
"I tip my hat to them," Kaufman said. "They are heavy with some seniors but have done what it takes to win it. I commend Mike for doing that and inspiring his boys to make it happen."