North Medford High wrestling coach Phillip Lopez isn't the type to get carried away.
St. Mary's senior soccer player Tracy Salgado woke up on Nov. 9 with a feeling of uncertainty in the pit of his stomach.
Would he play that day? Could he play that day?
No one knew.
He arose and went about his business, stopping occasionally to slowly flex the right hamstring that he had badly injured four days earlier in a 3-2 win over De La Salle North Catholic in the first round of the Class 3A/2A/1A state playoffs.
The 18-year-old Salgado would carefully board the team bus headed for Portland, where top-ranked and undefeated Riverdale awaited in the quarterfinals. He told his mom to come, just in case. The center midfielder told head coach Paul Coughlin very little, just to be safe.
"I wasn't going to give Paul an answer until right before the game," recalls Salgado.
The eighth-seeded Crusaders were certainly rooting for him to come back: the speedy Salgado is one of the team's leading scorers, a team captain and someone Coughlin says "has come up with some of the most important goals of our season."
More on those important goals in a moment.
After St. Mary's arrived at Lewis & Clark College that day, Salgado began to cautiously warm up. He next wrapped up the hamstring tightly with athletic tape before doing some exercises.
"It could have been my last game and we were underdogs," Salgado recalls thinking. "I wanted to go out and play hard. If I got hurt, I'd have all winter to heal before track."
With forty minutes to go before kickoff, Salgado then looked over at Coughlin.
"Hey Paul, put me in," he said.
The rest is history: Salgado started and, with 13 minutes left in a scoreless match against Riverdale, netted the game-winning goal to propel the Crusaders into the semifinals.
Three days later, he recorded another key goal in the team's 3-2 shootout victory over No. 4 Portland Adventist Academy.
Now St. Mary's (11-2-2) is back in the title game for the third time in four years and in search of its first state crown since 2003. The Crusaders will face No. 3 seed Oregon Episcopal School (17-1) at 1 p.m. at Liberty High School in Hillsboro on Saturday.
Salgado, a four-year varsity member, has made a major impact on the program while playing with injuries — and while playing another sport. He competed in cross country and finished in 28th place at the Class 3A state meet this season. Salgado is also a track athlete (he took third at state last spring in the 800-meter race).
He's left his mark while enduring some pain.
His list of physical setbacks is extensive: a shoulder injury his freshman year, a strained Achilles his sophomore year, knee and back problems last year and then the hamstring injury against De La Salle North Catholic. About five minutes after Salgado scored in the first half against the Knights, he experienced a jolting cramping sensation and did not return after exiting the pitch at U.S. Cellular Community Park.
"I saw him standing still at the 35-yard line," Coughlin recalls. "I am over there like, 'That doesn't look like exhaustion.' I don't think he's capable of exhaustion. I went out there and he said, 'I just can't move my leg.'"
Says Salgado: "I thought I was done for the season."
Four days of uncertainty would pass before that Saturday's date with Riverdale, the defending state champions. Salgado did some rehabilitation work on the fly.
"It was a miracle heal," Salgado says.
When Salgado wasn't playing soccer this fall, he was running. On days when he could not attend cross country practice, he would get up at 5 a.m. and run hills about 11/2 miles from his house.
Salgado did not miss a soccer match and participated in at least half of the Crusaders' cross country meets.
"It takes a particular kind of person who is very in tune with their body and good at both," Coughlin says. "And they must be smart. With Tracy, you've got smarts in spades."
In track, Salgado specializes in the 800.
"He just has crazy speed and is really smart with it," says teammate Nathan Hoyt.
Fast, smart — and tough.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him online at facebook.com/danjonesmt or twitter.com/dljcards