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Crusaders rise to the challenge

Emily Alvarez gave the St. Mary's girls soccer team a lift in the Class 3A/2A/1A state quarterfinals Saturday.

But before she could, she had to get one herself.

Alvarez was part of a frenzied scene in front of the Creswell goal as the final seconds vanished in the first half at U.S. Cellular Community Park. Anyone in uniform was welcome in the entanglement of leaping, bumping, clawing players as a pass from the flank arched lazily in.

The least likely person to make contact, let alone score the goal that sent the Crusaders into halftime with a 2-0 lead in what would be a 3-0 victory, was the 5-foot-2 Alvarez, a feisty senior forward.

"Somehow, the ball got down to that level," St. Mary's coach Dave Potter grinned afterward. "Sometimes, you know, we diminutive ones are in the right place at the right time, and she was."

So was MaryBeth Barnum, who kept the play alive.

So was Rachel Raniele, who lofted the pass into the mass.

So was Sam Weiland, who lofted Alvarez into the pass. Yes, you read correctly.

"I was going for the ball," said Alvarez, "and it was coming right at me, so I go, 'I've got it!' I was going for it and my friend, Sam, kind of picked me up."

"She just kind of threw you into it," said Raniele.

It wasn't a textbook header, by any stretch.

"It hit me right in the face," said Alvarez. "I had to use, like, the whole face."

As such, the ball more ambled than rocketed past Creswell goalie Shelby Dunivin, but it had just enough juice to creep across the goal mouth. There were 3.5 seconds on the stadium clock. Pandemonium ensued. Even Alvarez, her blurred vision from watery eyes and a painful, runny nose be danged, bounced and screamed in delight.

"It hurt so bad," she said. "I thought I had a bloody nose."

There was confusion over who scored the goal. Raniele initially thought it was Weiland. Then someone hollered that it was "Emily," so Raniele figured it to be Emily Frank. The Crusaders have four Emilies, an Ellie, an Allie and an Elise. Anytime Potter calls out one of the like-sounding names, half the team comes running.

Said Alvarez: "I was like crying and saying, 'No, it's me.'"

It was Alvarez's second goal in a game in which St. Mary's, No. 4 in the state rankings, thoroughly dominated. It had 10 shots on goal to none for the fifth-ranked Bulldogs.

The Crusaders (13-1-2) won their 12th straight game, and Creswell was the 10th opponent that failed to score on them.

St. Mary's now gets a familiar semifinal foe in Oregon Episcopal School, a 3-0 victor over Corbett. They will play at the Portland high school at 4 p.m. Tuesday. This will be the third season in a row the two have met in the semifinals. OES triumphed the last two years en route to state championships.

St. Mary's won in 2010, 4-1, then lost in the title game to Catlin Gabel.

"I'll tell you what," said Potter, "you can't win a state championship without going through Oregon Episcopal or Catlin Gabel. We're always in one of their brackets. It's a stepping stone."

The other semifinal has Catlin Gabel facing Valley Catholic.

Against Creswell, Alvarez put the Crusaders on top 10:39 into the contest, taking a through ball from Raniele and creasing the middle of the field before beating Dunivin when she came out to challenge.

St. Mary's third goal was by Emily Elmore with 8:09 to play. She received a pass in the middle from, naturally, another namesake, Frank, and veered to the left of Dunivin before flicking in a 10-yard shot with the outside of her right foot.

Although Potter's team played at a higher level throughout, the score didn't reflect it.

"We had control of the match, didn't we," he said. "But at 1-0 and 2-0, the moment you give up a goal, the momentum shifts real fast. The other thing the girls didn't do, which is real important, is they didn't go into a defensive mode. We kept attacking, regardless of the score."

Never was it more apparent than on Alvarez's tally late in the first half.

The play would not have been possible sans the efforts of Raniele and Barnum.

With a half-minute to go, Raniele rifled a shot that was deflected left of the goal by Dunivin. Raniele alertly chased down the ball and bolted to the left corner for a corner kick.

"I sprinted probably harder than I had in the entire game," she said. "There were spectators on the sideline telling me, 'You have 20 seconds left.' I basically just set the ball down and kicked it. It wasn't a very good corner."

It went into the cauldron of humanity. Barnum played the ball off her body while screening off two Bulldogs. She punched it back to Raniele, who one-touched it back to the fray, allowing Alvarez to, quite literally, become the face of the play.

"What a fabulous time for a goal," said Potter.

Now comes OES, which St. Mary's tied, 1-1, in a nonleague game in mid-September.

Raniele is a four-year member of the varsity and wants to atone for the past couple playoff ousters. In the game earlier this year, the Crusaders were missing a few players and were out of sorts following a long bus ride north, she said.

"It was a really tough game for us," said Raniele, "and we still came out and tied. I think, to me and everyone else, it just shows that we can compete with them. This is kind of like our year to beat them."

Alvarez and her sister, Rose, a junior starting defender, were absent from the game.

"Since I haven't played them this season," said Emily Alvarez, "I'm pretty excited. I'm so ready to play."

She hopes she can again provide a lift.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email ttrower@mailtribune.com

St. Mary's Emily Alvarez, left, and Samantha Weiland celebrate during Saturday's game at U.S. Cellular Community Park.