North Medford High wrestling coach Phillip Lopez isn't the type to get carried away.
The St. Mary's boys soccer team is back where it belongs — in the state championship game.
The eighth-seeded Crusaders pulled off another road upset Tuesday, downing No. 4 Portland Adventist Academy 3-2 in a shootout in the Class 3A/2A/1A semifinals.
The victory sends St. Mary's (11-2-2) into the title contest for the third time in four seasons. The only year they didn't make it in that span was last season, when coach Paul Coughlin's team had an uncharacteristically subpar record of 6-9 and lost in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Crusaders will face No. 3 seed Oregon Episcopal School (17-1) at 1 p.m. at Liberty High School in Hillsboro on Saturday. OES defeated No. 2 seed Riverside 2-1 in overtime Tuesday.
It will be the first meeting between St. Mary's and OES since early last season, when the Aardvarks of Portland won in nonconference play, 2-1.
The contest against Portland Adventist Academy (10-5-1) was nip-and-tuck, tied 1-1 through regulation, then 2-2 after the first of two 10-minute overtime sessions. A scoreless second session prompted the penalty kick shootout, and St. Mary's prevailed, 4-2.
"We're just kind of glowing," said Coughlin, whose team eliminated top-seeded Riverdale last Saturday. "It's been a pretty crazy season to come in (as the No. 8 seed) and have to play two huge games on the road, and these guys did it."
St. Mary's is seeking its second state championship, having won a decade ago. That 2003 team went 18-0.
The drought since has not been for lack of effort. Since Coughlin was hired as coach in 2006, his teams have gone 101-26-6. In addition to three finals, they've twice gotten as far as the semifinals and twice were ousted in the quarterfinals.
"Last year was a pretty low season for us," said Coughlin. "We weren't used to getting knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. It had never happened until last year. These guys have really rebuilt things and come together and believed in themselves."
The Crusaders overcame a tough Portland Adventist squad and sloppy conditions. Rain earlier in the day turned the grass field into a mud pit, said Coughlin.
"Unfortunately," he said, "we weren't able to play our usual style, which is passing the ball. It's pretty and it's fun to watch, but we could not do that on this field."
Neither team could gain a foothold until Tracy Salgado swooped in and scored for St. Mary's midway through the second half. After sophomore midfielder Alec Robertson's shot caromed off the goal, Salgado, a senior midfielder, punched in an 8-yarder in the 59th minute.
Portland Adventist answered six minutes later, when Luke Junta scored from outside the box.
"It was a big looper of a shot," said Coughlin. "It was the right shot at the right time. He arched it over our keeper into the far side of the goal. That was unfortunate. We had already started bunkering our defense. We were going to sit on a one-goal win. But they scored a very nice goal."
They went to overtime, and six minutes in, senior midfielder Michael Gambee fired a left-footed shot that the Cougars' keeper couldn't handle. It trickled away and junior midfielder Bren Catt closed in for the kill and a 2-1 lead.
Junta again answered, this time only a minute later on a direct kick of about 35 yards. The sophomore's shot beat St. Mary's senior goalie Christian Aviles, who lost his footing in the muck on a play he'd otherwise have made easily, said Coughlin.
After 100 minutes, it went to the shootout, and St. Mary's came out on top.
In addition to Salgado and Gambee, Coughlin praised the play of junior midfielder Avery Kerwin and defenders Nathan Hoyt (senior), William Lee (senior), Eli Conway (sophomore) and Jeremy Wu (junior).
"Those guys came together and were strong again," said the coach. "Nobody broke them."
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