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Uncharted Territory

It was a familiar connection that put the North Medford girls soccer team in unfamiliar territory on Saturday.

Halley Folsom converted a nifty feed from teammate Sydney Thomas into the game’s lone goal as the Black Tornado finally broke through in more ways than one, pushing past a pesky Forest Grove squad, 1-0, in the quarterfinals of the Class 6A state playoffs at U.S. Cellular Community Park.

The victory advances North Medford to the girls state semifinal round for the first time in program history.

“I think mainly it’s not just about talent with us, but about passion,” said Thomas. “We’re so much like family.”

Added Folsom: “We’re devoted to each other. We worked so hard to get here.”

North Medford (11-2-4), the Southwest Conference runner-up and the state’s No. 10 seed, will play West Salem, a 3-2 winner over South Salem on Saturday.

Jeff Thomas, North Medford’s first-year coach, marveled at the tenacity of his players following a game in which they dominated most of the action but struggled to convert against Forest Grove’s prevent-style defense.

“This is pretty huge for us and our program,” said the coach. “We don’t necessarily have the most talented players but we have the best team.

“The girls really cared about getting to this point. And now they have a real shot at playing for a state title.”

Getting into the semis was no sure thing, especially against a Vikings squad that had already outlasted two higher seeds, including SWC champion and No. 2-seeded South Medford.

Forest Grove (10-8), seeded 31st, packed in its defense to frustrate North Medford’s aggressive attack. The plan worked to a point, until the game’s 54th minute.

A scramble for the ball near the 20-yard marker in Forest Grove territory gave the Tornado a throw-in opportunity. Sydney Thomas, as she had done in a victory over Jesuit in the previous round, raised the ball above her head and led a fading Folsom perfectly en route to the right side of the goal box. Folsom did the rest, playing the ball over her shoulder with a defender at her back and finding net from short range over the head of Vikings goalkeeper Mayra Pantoja-Palominos.

“Sydney’s our No. 1 on throw-ins,” laughed Folsom. “She’s the best at that. She led me perfectly.”

Forest Grove would never seriously threaten after that.

North Medford had ample opportunities in the opening half, including a penalty kick by Folsom that caromed off the left post just inches from a goal, but could not break through.

“The girls had to understand that (Forest Grove) was basically parking a bus in front of the goal,” said Jeff Thomas. “Once they understood that they had to be patient, then we were all right.”

And bound for the semifinals.

“This is an amazing group,” said coach Thomas. “It’s a group that cares deeply about school and cares deeply about soccer. You don’t have to worry about them on Saturday nights. It’s just an exceptional group of young ladies.”

Savannah Bumgardner of the Black Tornado works the ball past Forest Grove's Emily Peters in the second half Saturday at U.S. Cellular. PHOTO BY ANDY ATKINSON
North Medford's Halley Folsom, center, watches her game-winning shot sail into the net in the 54th minute as Forest Grove's Anahi Cordero-Carlin (23) and Hannah Woods (19) look on. PHOTO BY ANDY ATKINSON