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St. Mary’s edges Riverside on late PK

In a physical back-and-forth affair Saturday night between host St. Mary’s and Riverside, the last foul proved to be the biggest in a Class 3A/2A/1A boys soccer thriller at U.S. Cellular Community Park.

With 45.9 seconds remaining in the state quarterfinal match, St. Mary’s senior Hunter Rothfus was fouled in the box by Riverside goalkeeper Adolfo Bedolla Jr. — who drew a yellow card for the clash — to set up a spotlight moment that St. Mary’s senior Alec Robertson did not wilt from with all eyes upon him.

Robertson crisply deposited the ensuing penalty kick into the right side of the net past replacement goalkeeper Alejandro Jose Llamas for the game’s only goal to lift his team to a 1-0 victory and berth in Tuesday’s state semifinals.

“That was definitely a lot of pressure,” said Robertson, “but I just tried to keep to what I know and go to it.”

“It was definitely our hardest game,” added the midfielder. “It took heart. It was definitely whoever wanted it more at the end. We had so many opportunities but we just finally pulled through in the end.”

Even with a host of talented players to choose from for the penalty kick, the decision to turn the game’s outcome over to Robertson came without hesitation by St. Mary’s head coach Eric Pyka.

“Alec has never missed in his four years here,” Pyka said. “That was the moment he’s been waiting for for the last four years.”

“I had a hunch that it might go to PKs being that I felt like both teams were so evenly matched,” added the first-year coach. “We practiced them and it was pretty obvious Alec was the head choice for that.”

Put in a bad spot by having to step into the goal with Bedolla led off the field due to his yellow card, Llamas still chose correctly but his diving effort couldn’t keep up with Robertson’s confident kick.

Third-seeded St. Mary’s (15-2) advances to face No. 2 seed Oregon Episcopal in Tuesday’s semifinals in a rematch of the 2013 championship game won 2-1 by OES. The two-time defending champion Aardvarks (13-2-1) beat Creswell 3-1 on Saturday.

While the Crusaders celebrated their opportunity to move on in the state playoffs, Riverside head coach Francisco Velazquez lamented the way Saturday’s contest was ultimately determined.

“I don’t like it that we lost like that,” said Velazquez, surrounded by a host of visibly dejected Pirates players and fans. “Things like that are just not fair. We had a really good team and I think we had a good chance. If we lost with one goal, that’s fine, but we lost like that with bad calls, it’s not fair for me. That’s why we’re frustrated.”

Riverside (11-3-2) had received a majority of foul calls in its favor to that point, with second-half yellow cards doled out to senior defenders Eli Conway and Justin Hawkins on challenges among those calls.

None of the dramatics, however, would have been possible were it not for the extra effort turned in by Rothfus.

The senior sprinted his way into position for a booming kick from deep in St. Mary’s territory and used his head to direct the loose ball to his feet before turning into the box and ultimately getting his legs taken out from under him on a hard challenge by Bedolla and company. Rothfus frantically tried to get up with the ball still at his feet in the skirmish but he was initially held down and couldn’t break free until just after the head referee began blowing his whistle for a foul call.

“Honestly Hunter had two or three fouls in the box earlier where they should’ve been called,” said Pyka. “We finally realized it had to be that bad for them to call it and fortunately the ref made a good call.”

Velazquez obviously saw it differently.

“I wasn’t thinking it was a losing ball, it was just played where nobody has the ball and everybody was pushing,” said the third-year Pirates coach. “For me it was not a foul, everybody was pushing over there.”

The tooth-and-nail battle to the end included a host of scoring opportunities for both sides, with St. Mary’s junior goalkeeper Ryan Trask and Bedolla equal to the task to keep a clean sheet for the match. Each was forced into making a handful of saves while other shots skirted just wide or high of the goal.

Helping Trask keep Riverside at bay was a defensive effort spearheaded by seniors Bryce Parsons, Jeremy Wu, Conway and Hawkins and freshmen Parker Lam and Luka Cvijanovic.

“We knew our defense was going to be tested so we really focused on defense today and they really showed up today for us,” said Pyka. “When it comes down to it we have a top-notch team and the whole team really showed up today. I’ve got to give it to them, they played really great.”

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