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Steeley effort helps North clinch SOC's No. 2 seed

Pride and a No. 2 seeding from the Southern Oregon Conference were at stake Saturday when North Medford met rival South Medford in a boys soccer match at Spiegelberg Stadium.

It took the game's entirety but the Black Tornado came away with both, beating the defending state champion Panthers, 1-0, on a Garrett Steeley goal in the final two minutes.

With the win, North Medford clinched the second seed from the SOC and will host Southridge, the Metro League's No. — seed, in a first-round state playoff game next Saturday at Spiegelberg Stadium or Hoffbuhr Field. Tornado coach Rich Garcia cited possible poor field conditions at Hoffbuhr that could move the playoff contest to Spiegelberg.

South Medford, coming off its third game in five days, will take the SOC's No. — seed on the road against the Pac-9 Conference's No. 2 team, most likely Woodburn or Tualatin.

I told the guys that this game was for pride and to go out and play relaxed, said Garcia, whose team ended the regular season in a three-way tie for second place in the SOC with South and Roseburg. Anytime you play South you know it's going to be a tough, physical game.

— Steeley's goal came in the 79th minute, and ended a severe defensive struggle.

Senior James Kidwell served up a corner kick which found its way into the South box. Goalkeeper Mike Belzberg punched a header attempt away but the rebound eventually ended up with Steeley, who settled the ball and looped a left-footer over Belzberg's out-stretched hand from 15 yards out.

I saw the goalie come out and it was kind of a 50-50 ball in the air, said Steeley, a senior fullback. Right when I shot it I thought, oh no, cause I thought I got too much of it and to the right. But it went in.

The Panthers had one final attempt with 10 seconds to play but Kevin Potter's 20-yard direct kick sailed high.

I knew South had to be tired, said Garcia of the Panthers' recent heavy slate of games. We kept up the pressure on them and I think their tired legs may have gotten to them.

South Medford entered Saturday's contest minus junior midfielder Chris Swartsley, who was recovering from a concussion suffered during Tuesday night's victory over North in the regular-season finale.

To make matters worse, junior defender Jesse Bright was knocked out of the game late in the first half with a head injury.

North's Luis Cabrera inadvertently kicked Bright on the side of the face while the two were challenging for the ball near midfield. Bright was knocked momentarily unconscious but rose to his feet after a few minutes and left the field, albeit dazed, under his own power.

I just couldn't be more proud of my boys, said Panther coach Dave Potter. We had to dig deep from the bottom of the reservoir in this one.

We played with tremendous heart and guts but our legs wouldn't give it to us in the end.

Belzberg was the key early on in keeping the contest scoreless.

The Tornado, which had six attempts on goal to South's three, came out energized and sent a wave of shots Belzberg's way.

His most impressive of several saves came in the fifth minute. North senior Aidan Morrell found himself less than 10 yards from an initial goal but Belzberg stuck his left paw out from point-blank range to bat the ball out of harms way.

Mikey did what Mikey can do, said Potter of his senior honorable mention all-SOC keeper. He plays with so much passion and works tremendously hard. He's the best (keeper) I've ever coached.

Black Tornado keeper Oscar Benitez also turned in a handful of stops, most coming in the second half.

You gotta have great keeps in a game like this, said Garcia, and both teams have one. This type of game is a great warm-up for what you'll see at state.

Reach reporter Kevin Goff at 776-4483 or e-mail