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South storms into title contest

South's Seth Parks, right, collides with Mountain View's Travis Spearin their semifinal matchup.

The South Medford Panthers are postseason underachievers no more.

The boys soccer team put to rest years of playoff frustration Tuesdaywith a 3-0 shutout over Mountain View of Bend in the Class 4A state semifinals.

The second-ranked Panthers (14-1-1) will become the first team in schoolhistory to play in a state title game Saturday when they battle top-rankedSouth Eugene at Wilsonville High.

This is a big step, said senior forward Tyler Hoffbuhr. Fortwo years, we've been beaten in the quarterfinals. Finally, we broke thespell.

The Panthers followed up Saturday's 5-0 quarterfinal victory over Thurstonwith an equally impressive victory over a physical Mountian View team beforea large crowd at District Field.

Senior midfielder Shane Neville scored twice in the first half againstthe Cougars and Hoffbuhr's goal with 10 minutes, 26 seconds left in thegame put any doubts to rest.

It feels so good, Panthers sweeper Danny Lupes said. Ican't explain it. I knew we had the talent at the beginning of the season.It was just a matter of putting it together and it's really come together.

South Medford rolled through its third straight unbeaten season in theSouthern Oregon Conference. The Panthers spent all year near the top ofthe state poll.

But after disappointing quarterfinal losses the last two years, therewas little question that succeeding in the playoffs would be the true litmustest for the Panthers.

We weren't even the bridesmaid, says South Medford coachWally Hicks of the Panthers' playoff past. We were the attendant orthe usher. Now maybe we can get what we think is our just do.

Saturday's final against South Eugene will give the Panthers a chanceto avenge their only loss of the season, a 2-1 defeat at Eugene on Sept.7. The Axemen beat visiting Canby 3-2 -- with a 4-2 edge in a shootout --in Tuesday's other semifinal.

If this team comes to play like they did today, they will win thechampionship game, said Mountain View coach Dave Stockton, whose teamfinished the season 12-2-3. There's no doubt in my mind.

South Medford overmatched Mountain View with a combination of bruisingphysical play and precision passing -- especially in the first half. Thatsharp passing led to numerous scoring opportunities, and the Panthers fired16 shots to the Cougars' two in the first half, taking a 2-0 lead.

It really helps to get on top early because it lowers the otherteam's confidence level, said Hoffbuhr.

The Panthers went on the attack right out of the gate and had their firstgoal within five minutes. South Medford star forward Bryn Ritchie took ahigh crossing pass from Dan Lane and headed it to Neville, who pounded itpast Cougars keeper Phil Haines with 35:05 left in the first half.

Neville scored his second goal with 18:10 left in the first half on apenalty kick awarded when Ritchie was taken down in front of the goal. Itwas Neville's first penalty kick of the season.

As he lined up for the pressure-filled kick, Neville was surprised tosee Haines stationed well to the right side, almost baiting him to shootleft.

The goalie was giving me the whole left side, but that wasn't myshot, so I took my shot, said Neville, who fired a rocket to the rightthat Haines never had a play on. It was just a mind game, I guess.

South had several other near scores, but the 2-0 halftime lead was justthe sort of edge Hicks was hoping for against a Mountain View team notedfor keeping games close.

With a team that is touting its defense, we feel like we have toget up early to make them come out, Hicks said.

The penalty kick really changed the complexion of the game,said Stockton. A 2-0 lead is hard to come back on against a good teamlike this. We were hoping to play a close game and go to overtime, but nottoday.

South's defense made sure there would be no overtime, recovering fromoccasional lapses to recover its 12th shutout in 16 games. Since allowingfour goals in the season's first two games, the Panthers have yielded onlyfour goals in their last 13 games.

That's big, said Hicks. Our defense is solid.

Defenders Seth Parks, Matt Hogge, Jesse Rowden and Lupes faced a moreaggressive Mountain View attack in the second half but held their groundwith help from goalie Chad Warren and South's midfielders.

The Panthers were quieter offensively in the second half, scoring theironly goal when Hoffbuhr took a crossing pass from Jon-Micah Sumrall andfound the net with 10:26 remaining.

The game was physical throughout but grew more intense in second half,when all five of the game's yellow cards were handed out. The most seriousconfrontation came in the final two minutes when Sumrall and Mountain View'sBrian Donley got tangled up and began pushing. Both players earned yellows.

The growing physical intensity didn't surprise Ritchie, who got a yellowcard early in the second half.

It's to be expected, he said. It's intense. It's thesemifinals, and both teams have been working hard all season. When one teamseems to take control, you are going to get upset.

It's a disappointment Ritchie and the Panthers know all about and areglad to have left behind.

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South storms into title contest