Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
Having missed out on an outright Southern Oregon Hybrid championship due to a few lapses, North Medford was determined to not let anything slide Saturday in opening the Class 6A girls soccer state playoffs.
Relaxed but focused, quick but controlled ... the Black Tornado did everything the right way en route to a 4-0 triumph over St. Mary's Academy at U.S. Cellular Community Park.
Senior forward Amanda Hisey tallied two goals and junior goalkeeper Bailey O'Connor provided a sensational last line of defense with four one-on-one saves to remove the bitter taste of last year's first-round exit — as well as last week's 4-4 tie against South Medford that forced a tie for the SOH title.
"From the outcome of the South game, we all wanted to bring it this game," said Hisey. "We were a little disappointed in some of our play and some of the mistakes that happened (last Saturday) so I think we came out this game wanting it a lot and proved that we are a very well-skilled team."
Next, the Black Tornado (9-4-2) will have to prove that it's capable of taking a step few in the program's history have taken when it hits the road Tuesday for a second-round date with Grant, a 3-0 winner over Beaverton. The Black Tornado hasn't advanced beyond the second round since 1998, when it beat Redmond 4-0 before falling to Jesuit in the quarterfinals.
"We've got to get past the second round," said O'Connor, who had five saves overall. "That's like our curse. But we're still just trying to take it one game at a time and just trying to get as far as we can."
With a blustery wind and some opening-round nerves wreaking havoc with each team's touch to open the contest, North Medford junior Sydney Thomas helped settle things down for her squad with a hustling effort that led to the game's first goal at the 6:35 mark. Thomas refused to give up on a ball near the left sideline, pulled it back from Blues defender Maddi Mattecheck and lofted a beautiful cross to junior Halley Folsom, who was facing midfield but snapped her head back quickly to direct a header past keeper Nesha Eaton.
"After they had the goal, I think they settled down and saw that they had time to play so we just kept telling them to take the ball at their feet and be patient," said North Medford head coach Emily Miller.
Things took a dramatic turn for St. Mary's Academy (8-5-2) after that, spurred on by O'Connor's charging stop of a shot in the box by Blues forward Emily Lang. The ball quickly got moved up the right side to Ashley Parker, who found Haley Janky upfield and the sophomore did the rest with a sharp run through the middle and a finishing flick past Eaton from just inside the goal box.
Forty-six seconds later at the 24:40 mark, Hisey netted her first goal of the game when she took a touch pass from Morgan Barry in the middle and rocketed a shot into the back of the net from 20 yards out for a stunning 3-0 advantage.
"I can just feel when to shoot it and I just saw an opening and I took it," said Hisey, who set the program's single-season record with 25 goals last year. "I heard it, too, it was loud."
The force of the shot echoed through the stadium, but also through the St. Mary's Academy sidelines.
"I try to coach the girls that when we go 1-nil down," said Blues head coach Wayne Hodges, "we need an immediate response ... to test their goalkeeper and have five or six minutes of a good spell of possession. All credit to the Medford girls, they really passed the ball very precisely and fast today and we just couldn't cope with that at times."
St. Mary's Academy also had difficulty negotiating a Black Tornado defense that was spearheaded by the efforts of McKensie Ragan, Tori Foy, Renae Rivero and Sarah Thomas. That quartet kept a steady alignment and limited the action for O'Connor, who still was asked to make some point-blank saves and proved equal to the task.
"Their goalkeeper stood up very well," said Hodges. "She didn't have lots to do but typical goalkeeper, when she was pressed she kept focus, as did most of the Medford girls."
Added Miller of O'Connor's play on those one-on-one situations: "She does a good job with it. She's a physical player and not afraid to step because I think she knows she has the space to do it and is comfortable with it."
For her part, O'Connor said her four closest defenders paved the way for the shutout, which was shared with Hayley Haas when she replaced the keeper with 101/2 minutes to play.
"We were just really motivated on defense," said O'Connor, "and everyone was communicating well and staying on their marks and talking and overlapping when they needed to. It worked well."
Hisey netted the only goal of the second half on a beautiful give-and-go near midfield with Janky. Hisey took a crossing pass and sent a backheel pass to Janky, who in turn delivered a through ball that the senior ran down and found herself in a one-on-one position with Eaton. After sizing up her target, she sent a beautiful ball to the back of the net for a 4-0 advantage with 161/2 minutes remaining.
"I felt like from the start when we got here it was going to be a good game and we had it," said Hisey of her team's confident approach. "I think this game helped us a lot but we still have a lot of motivation to make it past the second round. It will be tough but I think we can do it."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry