The Hanford Falcons didn’t win the Mid-Columbia Conference title, nor did they earn the top seed to the District 5/8 regional tournament.
But they sure got what they wanted Saturday night at Lampson Stadium.
The Falcons continued their remarkable playoff run, winning their fifth consecutive postseason game, with a 2-1 shootout victory over Kennewick in the Class 3A state quarterfinals.
Hanford trailed 1-0 with less than 10 minutes left in regulation.
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But Kelly Smith scored the equalizing goal with seven minutes remaining to force a shootout, and Falcons’ goalkeeper Jacob Thiel stopped every one of the Lions’ four spot kicks to clinch Hanford’s first Final Four berth since 2002.
“This group won’t quit. Down one goal with time running down, Kelly Smith stepped up. That’s what experienced captains do,” Falcons coach Mike Pardini said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone stop four penalty kicks in one game.”
Smith flew in from the top of the 18-yard box on a corner kick from Mario Zarate. He timed his arrival at the goal mouth perfectly, heading the ball past Kennewick goalkeeper Henry Hernandez with just seven minutes left in regulation.
“It’s a little surreal right now. For us to make it this far, it had to be in a game like this,” Smith said. “Mike told me to get in there. I made eye contact with Mario, and he got me the ball.”
Pasco (15-6) will face the Shorewood/Bonney Lake winner in the Class 3A semifinals Friday at 4 p.m. at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup.
The winner will play for the state championship at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Kennewick (16-4) is still looking for its first Final Four trip, but the Lions reached state for the second year in a row, a program first.
They also earned their first league title since 1989 and first-ever regional title.
Still, the bitterness of defeat hung in the air as the team lingered for the last few moments at Lampson.
“Obviously, everybody’s a little down — especially me, because it’s my senior year. I think we were the better side on the day. They slotted one in on a corner kick. It was a mistake,” Kennewick defender Noe Diaz said. “All in all, we had a great season, but we lost to an inferior opponent.”
Lions coach Brian Gochoel didn’t necessarily share his star defender’s sentiments, although he did agree his team moved the ball better during the flow of play.
“At the end of the day, it’s about results. You don’t get any points for beauty,” Gochoel said. “Our spot kicks weren’t taken with authority, because we lost our legs with the extra time.”
In the shootout, Thiel made diving stops on shots from Alvaro Licea, Uriel Ramirez, Brandon Lopez and Anthony Arroyo. After stopping the fourth, the Hanford fan contingent began chanting “Spi-der-Man, Spi-der-Man” in a tribute to his colorful goalie jersey.
The Falcons rushed over to the fan section after the post-game handshake, absorbing the swell of emotion after such a long playoff drought. But Pardini said his team didn’t win by feeding off passion.
“For us, it’s never about emotion. It’s about staying focused, organization and discipline,” Pardini said. “This is a testament to the kids and the coaching staff. We were fortunate, because that’s a great side. But at the end of the day, we got it done.”
Scoring—1, K, Adrian Rojo (Uriel Ramirez), 44:00; 2, H, Kelly Smith (Mario Zarate), 73:00. Shootout goals (Hanford 2-0)—H, Kyle McMurrich, Smith. K, none. Shots—H 5, K 12. Saves—H, Jose Rodriguez 0, Henry Hernandez 0. K, Jacob Thiel 5.