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Pelicans foul up Tornado's game plan

The game plan against the Klamath Union boys soccer team goes something like this:

Never lose track of senior forward Luis Garcia, a returning first-team all-stater. Harass him as much as possible and try to take him out of the match mentally. Be aggressive and physical everywhere on the field. Go strong after every 50-50 ball, and don't back down. Limit the Pelicans' flank attacks. And when they do get off crosses toward the far post, have a goalkeeper who is unafraid to mix it up in the air and tough defenders who can win headers. Miscues must be minimized, and the rare golden opportunity must be utilized.North Medford coach Rich Garcia had a strategy more or less of that sort heading into Tuesday's match at Hoffbuhr Field, and the Black Tornado was nearly perfect on the first three points.

But that fourth one was the killer, as KU (8-0-2 overall, 4-0 SOC), the preseason conference favorite, survived for a 1-0 squeaker over North (6-2-2, 3-1).

Pelicans senior right midfielder Krister Balme stole an errant Tornado pass along the right sideline midway through the first half and lofted a far-post cross that was headed home by Garcia, above a pair of North defenders and past sophomore goalkeeper David Oliver.

The Tornado controlled the second half but couldn't create many scoring chances until late.

The best North opportunities came inside the last 10 minutes.

First, sophomore left fullback Richard Snapp chipped across the field to set up senior forward Zach Taylor. With a KU defender in hot pursuit, Taylor struggled to control and sent a sliding shot well wide of the net.

A minute later, senior forward Evan McArthur sprinted onto a through pass from senior left midfielder Michael Watson and fired a laser toward the near post that Pelicans senior goalkeeper Phil Van Buren dove to deflect wide.

"It was just a defensive letdown," Van Buren said of his game-saving denial. "It was going in, definitely. It was a good shot, but I had the near post covered pretty well."

Garcia didn't waste words in praising Van Buren, a second-team all-SOC selection last season who appears headed for the first team on the strength of five shutouts so far this season.

"Their keeper was outstanding," said Garcia, in his 10th season directing the Tornado. "Their keeper was MVP."

In an intense match that included 16 fouls by each team and four yellow cards, three of which were issued to KU players, the Tornado proved it can hang with the SOC front-runner.

In fact, first-year Pelicans coach Marty Ledgerwood felt "fortunate" to escape with the victory.

"North and us is always a battle," said Ledgerwood, who inherited the team after a school-best semifinals run in the 2000 state playoffs. "I mean, we always play tight. They play tough on their home field, and they really stuck it to us for a good portion of the game."

Seniors Dan Torrey and Kedric Charlton stood out for the Tornado, as did sophomore goalkeeper David Oliver, who made three saves and pulled down a number of KU crosses.

Torrey, usually a central midfielder, was charged with shadowing Garcia for much of the match, and Torrey's back-pocket presence visibly frustrated the Pelicans' star.

Playing central midfielder, Charlton was instrumental in winning balls in the midfield and orchestrating North possession and attacks.

Garcia, armed with but two returning starters and six players from last season's third-place SOC squad, was pleased with the Tornado's tenacity.

"This is the best game we've played this year," said Garcia, whose team was picked fourth in the preseason coaches' poll and travels to Roseburg, plays at Ashland and meets South Medford at home to close the regular season. "We match up well with them. We match up well with anybody in the league."

KU enjoyed a 12-7 edge in shots on goal, but North's execution of the Pelican-taming game plan was nearly faultless.

Nearly.

Reach reporter Tim Pyle at 776-4483 or e-mail

Pelicans foul up Tornado's game plan