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Tornado claims pivotal victory

Battling for potential playoff position in a log-jammed Southwest Conference with only one clear boys soccer favorite, North Medford and South Medford fought for every inch of the turf Tuesday afternoon at Hoffbuhr Field.

The Black Tornado’s first run at the goal proved to be the only one that mattered on this day, however, as seniors Danny Zamores and Carter Ehlers combined on a perfect back-and-forth series that resulted in a goal in the 14th minute.

Despite South Medford’s persistent efforts, which included three shots that just slipped outside the goal, the Black Tornado was able to make that tally hold up for an important 1-0 SWC victory.

“It’s a pretty big win because they’re our rivals and we needed a win after we lost our game against South Eugene,” said Zamores, a 5-foot-5 forward/midfielder. “We needed to get back on track so we can get into the playoffs.”

The Black Tornado and Panthers entered Tuesday’s game with identical records (4-3 overall and 2-2 in SWC play) and in the middle of the standings that are topped by unbeaten South Eugene. There are six teams with at least six points in league play.

With the win, North Medford (5-3, 3-2 SWC) climbed into third place with nine points — teams get three points for a win and one for a tie — to trail only South Eugene’s 15 points and Grants Pass’ 10 points.

With its third 1-0 loss of the SWC season, South Medford (4-4, 2-3) dropped into a tie for fifth place with Sheldon, two points behind fourth-place Willamette

“All of our losses seem to be in a 1-0 situation like this,” said South Medford senior defender Angel Montelongo. “We know what our weakness is when we do get scored on, it’s just us fixing that problem and making that not happen anymore.”

On Tuesday, it’s doubtful the Panthers really could’ve done much to deny Zamores and Ehlers during their combination effort in the early going.

Ehlers, a 6-0 midfielder/defender, carried the ball to the top of the box and lifted a short pass to Zamores who, in turn, volleyed the ball back toward Ehlers and the end line. Ehlers took two strides to the ball and used his left foot to curl a perfect short cross to Zamores, who flicked a header just inside the near post past surging South Medford goalkeeper Caleb Rayburn.

“I saw Carter making a run and then I saw he was going to cross so I went in and it was a beautiful cross for me and went right at my head,” said Zamores of his first goal in SWC play. “We always play the one-two touch in practice and that paid off today.”

South Medford nearly netted the equalizer nine minutes later when a corner kick by Kyle Owings made its way to the far side of the box, but Josue Reyes couldn’t get a clean hit on the ball and watched in frustration as his shot leaked outside the near post.

The physicality of a match that had already seen North Medford’s Manny Mejia receive a yellow card for a hard, late tackle on Rene Cabrera took a disastrous turn for South Medford with about six minutes to go in the first half when Carlos Menendez was tagged with a yellow card for his late charge at Tornado goalkeeper Matt Vanhorn. Menendez then said something as he was being ushered off the field by the referee and was given a red card, leaving the Panthers to play one-man down for the final 46 minutes.

“It was just a tough situation to be in all around,” said Montelongo. “That just pushed us to dig deep and unite and try to pull off a ‘W,’ but I guess we couldn’t do it tonight.”

That inability to overcome the handicap certainly wasn’t for a lack of effort by the Panthers, who actually applied more pressure on North Medford in the second half and had the better of the scoring opportunities until the game’s final two minutes.

“It made it seem like it was 11 v. 11, it wasn’t like it was a big difference for them,” said Zamores, who had to switch to center back to help stabilize things with 17 minutes to play. “They kept pressuring us and it was tough for us and our defense but we kept it strong out there in the back. I’m proud of my team.”

Montelongo pushed forward and was nearly rewarded in the 48th minute after Cabrera lifted a cross to Eduardo Alvarez, who flicked a header back towards the charging defender. Montelongo’s one-touch effort, however, skipped just inches outside the far left post.

South Medford added good charges by Reyes and Alvarez before Montelongo had another shot in traffic from the top of the box barely miss the mark again with 3 1/2 minutes to play.

“When I’m in the back I want to have a shot,” said Montelongo, “and then when I do have the shots I want to do the best I can, but I couldn’t do it today. It’s hard, it’s really hard. Hopefully next time they’ll go in.”

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

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North Medford's Danny Zamores reacts after scoring the only goal of the game in the first half on the Black Tornado's field Tuesday. MAIL TRIBUNE / JAMIE LUSCH
North Medford's Miguel Ortiz-Rodriguez, left, and goalie Matt Vanhorn attempt to block a shot by South Medford's Josue Reyes late in the second half. MAIL TRIBUNE / JAMIE LUSCH