A spirited contest from crosstown rival Southridge wasn’t enough to stop the Kennewick High School boys soccer team from rolling through their Mid-Columbia Conference/Greater Spokane League Class 3A playoff semifinal Saturday at Lampson Stadium.
Juan Cruz, Emir Velic and birthday boy Edgar Rodriguez scored second-half goals to lead the Lions to a 3-0 victory, their third over the Suns this season, in a chippy game that was shortened when the teams got into an altercation with a few minutes left.
“It was a very intense game, as you could see from the ending there,” Kennewick junior midfielder Eddie Castillo said. “But a win’s a win.”
Kennewick (13-4) plays Kamiakin (8-9) — which went on the road to beat North Central 4-0 in the other semifinal — in the regional championship at 5 p.m. Tuesday. The winner advances to, and will host, a glue crossover game.
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“Another rivalry game. We just keep winning,” Rodriguez said. “Hopefully we get to that state bracket and from there just go on. Hopefully we win state this year.”
With a first-year coach and only four players returning from last year’s 10-9 squad, expectations were fairly low for the Lions this season. Now two wins away from the state tournament, those expectations, and the team’s confidence, are riding high.
“The season has been good; I didn’t expect it to go this well,” Rodriguez said. “So even if we don’t make it that far, I’ll be happy, but that’s the objective this year is to make it to the state final. And with this team, I believe we could.”
Southridge (7-12) will play North Central (4-11) at Joe Albi Stadium in a loser-out game, which also starts at 5 p.m. Tuesday. The MCC has won all four of its games against GSL opponents in the 3A playoffs.
Azuka Osokogu almost got Southridge on the board in the fifth minute when he broke away from his mark and fired a shot, with three defenders in tow, that beat Kennewick keeper Xander Flannery but wound up ringing hard off the post.
After playing on their heels out of the gates, the Lions had two great chances to take the lead before halftime. The first came in the 35th and finished with Jason Cortes’ goal getting nullified with an offsides call, and the other was put to an end thanks to a great save from Southridge keeper Cole Varker on a counterattack shot Eddie Castillo in stoppage time.
“You bet we were scared (about not scoring in the first half), but we just kept pressing,” said Kennewick coach Matt Kessie, who praised Southridge’s defensive tenacity and pressure. “We knew it would come and eventually happen, and sure enough we got some good looks and some goals.”
Rodriguez, Kennewick’s captain and lone senior, put the Lions’ worries about a scoreless first half to rest when he headed in a cross from Joel Garcia to open the scoring in the 43rd.
“Birthday, rivalry and the only senior,” he said. “You just want to score at some point, and it’s better to do it on the home field.”
Luciano Ontivares assisted Cruz’s goal in the 71st, and Velic finished a low, curving free kick from Castillo in the 75th to cap the scoring.
The game was physical throughout, and had to be stopped before the final whistle when a particularly hard foul led to some pushing and shoving, which led to a red card for a Southridge player and eventually Suns coach Brian Goechoel deciding it was best to abandon the game.
Scoring: K, Edgar Rodriguez G; Juan Cruz G; Emir Velic G; Joel Garcia A; Luciano Ontivares A; Eddie Castillo A. Goalkeepers: S, Cole Varker. K, Xander Flannery.