KENNEWICK -- Here's a tough question for any Southridge boys soccer player to answer:
Which would you rather do, beat Pasco or win a regional title?
The Suns had never done either. That is until they did both with a 2-1 victory against the Bulldogs on Saturday at Lampson Stadium.
Southridge (15-2) continued its inaugural run to state with its eighth consecutive victory, and perhaps its most significant win yet. The Suns only two losses this year had come to Pasco during the regular season.
"The two losses to Pasco really stung but I'm glad I could help win a regional title," said Southridge midfielder Zach Russell, who scored what turned out to be the deciding goal in the second half. "I love being out here with my teammates, my brothers. Stepping out on this field is like a sanctuary."
Southridge will play host to Lake Washington (12-6-1) at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Lampson Stadium in the first round of the 3A state tournament.
The Kangaroos started the season 1-5 but went 11-1-1 over their last 13 games to finish third in the KingCo 3A/2A behind Sammamish.
But the Suns are playing like a team possessed, from top to bottom. Southridge coach Chip Elfering looked like a proud father as he sat in the training room listening to his senior-based squad celebrate its latest victory.
"What means the most is that the kids wanted it. It means a lot for the kids to get something for all their hard work," he said.
Elfering was particuarly pleased with reserve player Brandon Thepvongsa, a midfielder who challenged every ball he was close to in limited minutes.
"Brandon really played well, even more than expected," he said.
The Suns got on the board early, scoring their first goal in the sixth minute when defender Connor Cravens redirected Keaton Hale's 25-yard free kick into the far corner. It was Craven's fifth goal of the season and the 18th goal by a Southridge defender this season.
But just 14 minutes into the match, a lightning storm temporarily suspended play for just over 80 minutes, soaking the field with rain and taking the Suns out of their early rhythm despite a 1-0 lead.
"It worked a little against us. It's hard when your adrenaline is up and you have to work yourself back up again," Elfering said.
The play slowed down a bit for the remainder of the first half because of the field conditions, but the teams seemed to find more chances in the second half.
Southridge picked up its second goal in the 49th minute, as Russell took a pass from Cravens on the right wing and arced a shot over Pasco goalkeeper Jose Ramos that tucked beneath the upper left corner for a 2-0 lead.
But Pasco wasn't done. The Bulldogs have trailed the Suns in the past, only to come back and win. They were counting on another comeback.
Junior midfielder Derek Zimmerman set up for a free kick just outside Southridge's 18-yard box with 20 minutes left in the game. Despite a four-person wall set up between him and the left side of the goal, Zimmerman chose to go to the short side and knocked it off the left post and into the goal to cut the lead to 2-1.
"We were excited. There was still plenty of time left. We just wanted to get one more," Zimmerman said.
But the goal wouldn't come despite some close calls. Jose Madrigal found himself in front of an open net with 12 minutes remaining after Suns goalie overplayed a high bounce. But with the defense closing on Madrigal, his hurried shot sailed over the crossbar.
The Bulldogs (14-4), who will play host to CBBN 3A rival Eastmont (14-5) at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Edgar Brown Stadium, are looking forward to a rematch. The Wildcats were 2-0 against Pasco this season, and the Bulldogs can't wait to face them again.
"We're excited to play Eastmont. They're a good team, but we've got a bad taste in our mouths after losing to them twice," Bulldogs coach Matt Potter said. "I think it's going to be a tough game. I can tell you we'll be ready."
Scoring--1, S, Connor Cravens (Keaton Hale), 6:00; 2, S, Zach Russell (Cravens), 49:00; 3, P, Derek Zimmerman, 60:00. Shots--P 16, S 16. Saves--P, Jose Ramos 3. S, James Fort 4.