KENNEWICK -- After several seasons worth of baby steps, the Southridge Suns boys soccer program made its second massive leap into school history Wednesday at Lampson Stadium.
With a 3-1 win over Eastmont in the 3A Eastern Regional semifinals, the Suns earned their first trip to the 3A state tournament.
Southridge (15-2), which also won its first league title this year, will play CBBN 3A rival Pasco (13-3) for the regional title at 6 p.m. Saturday at Lampson, but both teams will move on to state regardless of the outcome.
"Southridge has never beaten Pasco, but the boys really want that opportunity," said Suns coach Chip Elfering, who has led the team to four consecutive winning seasons. "Pasco is a good team with a lot of good players. I think wherever we play, we're going to have to show up."
Never miss a local story.
Keaton Hale scored the tying goal on a penalty kick in the 45th minute and then assisted Jake Zoulek for the go-ahead goal in the 65th minute.
Hale was a starter for a Suns team that he believes should have advanced to state last season. But his play helped ensure that this Southridge team didn't miss its chance to move on.
"It's cool to be a part of the first program to do it," Hale said. "But I believe we're not done yet."
Eastmont will travel to University at 1 p.m. Saturday in a loser-out battle for the No. 3 spot to state.
The Wildcats made an early statement with a goal in the ninth minute. Joel Villa headed in a free kick from Yems Rosas just outside the right side of the 18-yard box, redirecting the ball off a defender and just inside the far post to make it 1-0.
That score held until halftime, but that didn't concern Elfering one bit.
"It would have if we hadn't been down before. Every time we've played Eastmont, they've scored the first goal," he said. "But our kids seem to wake up if they get scored on."
After a stirring halftime speech by Elfering, Southridge responded with an impassioned second-half effort. The Suns earned three corner kicks in the first four minutes before defender Connor Cravens was fouled in the box on the third attempt, drawing a penalty kick.
Hale stepped up and drilled it past Eastmont goalkeeper Daniel Romero, who dove with the shot and got both gloves on it.
"It scared me a little bit because he guessed right," Hale said.
Southridge outshot Eastmont 23-9 for the game, and 15 of those shots came in the second half. It seemed only a matter of time before the Suns' work effort was rewarded.
In the 65th minute, it was. Hale lined a free kick from the right hash 40 yards away towards the far post.
The ball skipped off the turf and flicked off a defender before bouncing to Zoulek coming in from the left wing. Zoulek, who led the CBBN 3A with 13 regular-season goals, blasted a shot past Romero and into the far corner for a 2-1 lead.
"It was like winning Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. That was one of my favorite goals ever," said Zoulek, who was also named CBBN 3A Most Valuable Player on Saturday based on a vote from league coaches. "That goal was a game-changer. You could tell the whole entire team stepped things up after that."
In the 77th minute, the Suns scored an insurance goal, sealing the win with a tally from Cravens off a corner kick from Javy Gamez to make it 3-1.
Cravens' goal -- his fourth of the year -- represented the 17th tally by a Suns defender this year, which accounts for 32 percent of Southridge's 53 goals this season.
"Another goal by the defense," Elfering said. "It's hard to stop everybody. The more you can throw at people, the more success you're going to have."
For Cravens, one of nine Southridge seniors, it was a moment well worth waiting for, especially after being denied of what looked like a certain goal in the 60th minute by Romero.
Cravens found himself unmarked at the right post off a cross from Zoulek, but Romero smothered his point-blank shot to keep the score 1-1.
"It was a beautiful save. I'm glad I got another chance," said Cravens, who was named -- along with Hale -- a second-team All-CBBN defender. "We all waited four years for this. All our hard work and dedication paid off."
Scoring--1, E, Joel Villa (Yems Rosas), 9:00; 2, S, Keaton Hale (PK), 45:00; 3, S, Jake Zoulek (Hale), 65:00; 4, S, Connor Cravens (Javy Gamez), 77:00. Shots--E 9, S 23. Saves--E, Daniel Romero 7. S, James Fort 2.