After two consecutive losses in Mid-Columbia Conference play, the Kennewick boys soccer team needed several things to happen to get back into contention for the league title.
First, the Lions desperately needed a win. They also needed Richland and Hanford, the two teams leading the MCC, to lose.
Darned if those three things didn’t happen all at once Tuesday night.
Noe Diaz, a senior defender, scored the tying goal midway through the second half and then hit a spot kick in Kennewick’s 2-1 shootout victory over Richland at Bomber Field.
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“This was a very intense game, and well played by both sides,” Lions coach Brian Gochoel said. “It was a real character test for us coming off two losses. We needed a result to keep pace.”
When Chiawana topped Hanford 2-1, it created a three-team logjam atop the MCC standings, with Hanford (5-2, 30 points), Richland (5-2, 29 points) and Kennewick (5-2, 22 points) holding first place.
Below them is another three-way tie for fourth place that includes Chiawana (4-3, 24 points), Kamiakin (4-3, 17 points) and Pasco (4-3, 17 points).
Diaz is used to central defense, but his coaches decided his strength and aggressiveness might be better served at the offensive end. That move paid off in the 61st minute, when Lions midfielder Uriel Ramirez sent a long ball up the field into the Richland penalty box.
Diaz tracked it the whole way and didn’t give up when Bombers goalkeeper Damian Ruiz beat him to the ball and punched it toward the top of the 18-yard box.
But Diaz didn’t give up on it. Instead, he sprinted to the top of the box to retrieve the ball, quickly spun around and fired inside the near post, beating Ruiz and tying the score.
“I guess I just got there fast enough,” said Diaz, who wasn’t exactly sure where the ball would go once he hit it. “I knew the goalie fell down. I was lucky to get a second chance.”
Diaz, who earned an honorable mention nod on last year’s 3A all-CBBN squad, might have earned another shot at moving up top despite the hole it would leave in back.
“It’s definitely an option. We’ve had some injuries and some disciplinary action, which has affected our numbers,” Gochoel said. “I can see him becoming like (CBBN 3A MVP) Geo Vazquez. He organizes the back line well, so we have to decide if we want to sacrifice that to put him up front.”
Austin Herrick started things off for Richland, picking up his league-leading eighth goal off an assist from Jonathan Larsen in the fourth minute. Richland got several opportunities early on. Before his goal in the fourth minute, Herrick almost converted on an assist from Ali Kamara.
“We were being kind of negative in the first few minutes,” Diaz said. “When we put each other down, our game reflects that.”
But after Diaz was moved to forward after 20 minutes, Kennewick began to settle down. The Bombers outshot the Lions 6-5 in the first half, but Kennewick held a 12-3 shot advantage in the second half.
Ruiz kept the score down with two impressive saves. He held his position when Brandon Lopez lined up a shot in the 50th minute and sprawled out for a diving save when Lopez targeted the back corner. Ruiz had another big stop in overtime, smothering a low shot across the box by Daniel Uribe to keep the Bombers alive for a shootout.
Kennewick’s five shooters -- Ramiro Chavez, Ramirez, Uribe, Anthony Arroyo and Sam Borja -- all converted in the shootout. Richland’s first three shooters -- Herrick, Anders Lauridsen and Nicolas Reyes -- knocked in their kicks, but Lions goalie Jose Rodriguez stopped Xavier Acuna’s fourth-round attempt to seal the victory.
Scoring -- 1, R, Austin Herrick (Jonathan Larsen), 4:00; 2, K, Noe Diaz (Uriel Ramirez), 61:00. Shootout goals (Kennewick 5-3) -- K, Ramiro Chavez, Ramirez, Daniel Uribe, Anthony Arroyo, Sam Borja. R, Herrick, Anders Lauridsen, Nicolas Reyes. Shots -- K 18, R 9. Saves -- K, Jose Rodriguez 3. R, Damian Ruiz 4.