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...
St. Mary's keeps closing the gap on Oregon Episcopal — the two-time Class 3A/2A/1A girls soccer reigning state champion.
But not quite enough.
The previous two years, the Crusaders lost to the Aardvarks in the semifinals.
And for the third straight year, St. Mary's suffered the same fate.
Oregon Episcopal put a shot into the net late in the first half and went on to post a 1-0 semifinal victory over the Crusaders in Portland Tuesday.
Last year, St. Mary's lost by a 2-0 score. In 2011, the margin was 4-1.
"It was a phenomenal defensive matchup between two teams you had to watch, admire and appreciate," said St. Mary's coach Dave Potter. "This match could have gone 0-0 through 100 minutes of soccer and then into a shootout."
The Aardvarks (14-1-2) will attempt to register their third straight championship on Saturday against Valley Catholic, which beat Catlin Gabel, 4-0.
Oregon Episcopal scored the only goal allowed all season with the Crusaders' starting backline of Rose Alvarez, Sam Weiland, Emily Frank and Sophia Dewing on the field and goalie Viv Juncal in net.
The Aardvarks' Mickaelah McKinney-Griggs made the play by winning a foot race for the ball in the corner near the end line of the Crusaders' zone and sending a cross across the goal mouth. Sophomore forward Tess Oberholtzer got her foot on a half-volley and placed a shot that just slipped under the frame of the goal off the fingertips of an outstretched Juncal.
"Maybe there was only six shots taken the entire year with those five girls on the field together," said Potter. "It hurt to allow a score so late in the first half. Those sting."
St. Mary's had an excellent scoring opportunity on Rachel Raniele's direct kick with about 10 minutes remaining in the game. Raniele bent a shot to the far post that went wide.
"We had two players charging the net," explained Potter. "They just didn't quite get there when the ball made contact with the ground."
The Crusaders (13-2-2) have gained familiarity with Oregon Episcopal. Besides losing in the previous two state semifinals, St. Mary's played Oregon Episcopal to a 1-1 tie in a match Sept. 13.
"We found it very difficult to penetrate their back four," said Potter. "Whatever system we tried, our forwards just weren't able to penetrate as much as I would have liked. They were exceptional cutting off our attack and taking balls in the air. When we got into a foot race, we couldn't get the advantage that we usually have."
St. Mary's received strong play in the midfield from Raniele and MaryBeth Barnum.
"Those girls put in a mammoth effort," said Potter. "They gave it everything they had. They had to work harder than they worked all year."
Oregon Episcopal ended with a 5-4 edge in shots on goal.
Potter knew the road for a state title would go through the two-time champion.
"OES is who you have to measure yourself against," acknowledged Potter. "Getting over the hump is a difficult thing to do. We managed to make this a very tight match."
Reach reporter Frank Silow at 541-776-4480 or by email at email@example.com