The Richland boys soccer team has often relied on its spine.
Draw a line straight up the middle of its opening formation and you’ll see it: central defender Nico Reyes, central midfielder Jonathan Larsen and forward Austin Herrick. That’s the group that Bombers coach Octavio DoValle considers the team’s backbone.
On Saturday, during Richland’s 6-1 Mid-Columbia Conference district championship win over Walla Walla at Bomber Field, the senior trio showed their coach what heart was all about.
Herrick scored three goals and added two assists, Larsen chipped in a goal and two assists, and Reyes held the line against a pesky Blue Devils team that knocked off two higher seeds to reach the championship game.
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“(Those three) have played every minute of every game,” DoValle said. “We’ve got a lot of skill, but mentally we’ve had to build up to perfecting our game plan.”
The Bombers (10-5) will face Ferris (11-4), the top seed out of the Greater Spokane League, at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Bomber Field. The winner will earn the No. 1 seed to the 4A state tournament.
Walla Walla (3-11) will host Lewis and Clark (13-5) at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Richland went 3-3 on its home turf in the MCC this season, getting beaten by Hanford, Pasco and league champion Kennewick. But the Bombers had no intention of a home loss to start the playoffs.
“We had almost a whole week off (after a 2-0 win against Southridge on April 27). That was a big help,” said Larsen, a two-year co-captain. “Coach called on the seniors to stay focused. I think everybody was on the same page today.”
Walla Walla peaked at the right time after winning just three games in MCC play. The fourth-seeded Blue Devils won two of their last three regular-season matches and beat No. 3 Chiawana and No. 2 Pasco in the first and second round of the district tournament.
Playing its third match in five days against Richland, Wa-Hi found itself overmatched against a speedy and opportunistic Bombers attack.
“I wasn’t happy with our performance. We didn’t show much heart, but we’ll get it back,” said Blue Devils coach Mike Washington, who acknowledged that the tight schedule of late may have added to his team’s fatigue.
But he didn’t make excuses for them.
“We had to get rid of the ball quicker,” he said.
DoValle was wary of Walla Walla despite a regular-season record well below .500.
“I was scared of them. They were sitting there with nobody paying attention to them, but I respect them. They’re a well-coached team,” DoValle said.
The Bombers took a 2-0 first-half lead with the wind at their back, getting goals from Tyler Duncan and Herrick. The second half figured to see Walla Walla getting back into the game playing with the wind, but that never happened, thanks to a strong defensive effort by Richland.
“Everybody wanted to win. Everybody could just feel it,” Reyes said, anchoring a back line that included Mason Rojas and Kevin Garza.
The Bombers tacked on another goal 10 minutes into the second half after Herrick was shoved to the ground within the Blue Devils’ 18. He converted the penalty kick to make it 3-0.
Walla Walla cut the lead to 3-1 two minutes later when Gerardo Gomez took a pass from the left wing and wheeled around for a shot that beat Damian Ruiz.
But Richland put the game out of reach with three more unanswered goals.
“I thought it was impressive to have such a high scoring game in the district championship,” said Herrick after his first hat trick of the year.
He and Larsen didn’t seem to have much trouble controlling the ball despite the high winds that had a distinct effect on the flight of a high-arcing ball. “We kept our passes low and played to the feet,” Herrick said. “We communicated a lot more this game.”
Herrick, the MCC scoring champ, now has 16 goals overall, while Larsen bumped his MCC-leading assist total to 14.
John Crandall tacked on the Bombers’ final goal, tapping in a cross from Larsen at the far post in the 67th minute.
Garza left the game in the 57th minute after a horrifying collision in Richland’s 18-yard box. Walla Walla forward Gerardo Gomez ran down a high-bouncing ball inside the Bombers’ penalty box, where he crashed into Garza and Ruiz also closing in at full speed.
Ruiz flipped over the top and came down hard, but Garza was knocked unconscious after smashing into Gomez. He attempted to get up after coming to but fell to the ground again, drawing a gasp from the crowd. Gomez was not hurt.
DoValle said Garza went through a battery of tests with team trainer Dawn Morales on the sideline, and signs of a concussion weren’t immediately evident. Garza will remain under observation but isn’t expected to miss any playing time.
Scoring—1, R, Tyler Duncan (Austin Herrick), 12:00; 2, R, Herrick (Jonathan Larsen), 20:00; 3, R, Herrick (PK), 50:00; 4, WW, Gerardo Gomez (Adrian Alejandre), 53:00; 5, R, Larsen (Herrick), 55:00; 6, Herrick (Anders Lauridsen), 60:00; 7, John Crandall (Larsen), 67:00. Shots—WW 17, R 23. Saves—WW, Juan Nunez 7. R, Damian Ruiz 2.