Adrian Rojo may never have met Kirk Gibson or Willis Reed, but the three have something in common.
Gibson, with a pulled hamstring and swollen knee, hobbled around the bases after hitting a ninth-inning pinch-hit home run in Game 1 of the 1992 World Series, giving the Los Angeles Dodgers a 5-4 win over Oakland. Reed overcame a torn thigh muscle to play in Game 7 of the 1972 NBA Finals, giving an emotional boost to the eventual champion New York Knicks.
Rojo, a senior midfielder nursing a twisted ankle, played just 10 minutes for Kennewick boys soccer team on Tuesday at Lampson Stadium.
But Rojo blasted a left-footed liner past North Central goalkeeper Hebner Martinez in the 59th minute to break a scoreless tie in the Lions’ 2-0 win in the 3A District 5/8 regionals.
“(North Central) was playing with six defenders. I knew we weren’t going to be able to (penetrate) and score, so I told coach to put me in,” Rojo said.
Lions coach Brian Gochoel had made a few adjustments in the second half, including moving central defender Noe Diaz up to an attacking position and changing the number of defenders on the back line from four to three.
That yielded a few more chances, but no goals. And time was starting to run out.
“(Adrian) was for emergency only. During the week he was questionable,” Gochoel said. “He tapped me on the shoulder at halftime and said, ‘Coach, I can go.’
“After 15 minutes (in the second half) we still didn’t have a goal, so in came Adrian.”
Daniel Uribe dribbled along the endline, working his way toward the North Central goal, and centered a pass in front of the goal. An Indians defender got a piece of it, knocking it toward Rojo just inside the top left corner of the 18-yard box.
Rojo kept his head down and fired a low shot that beat Martinez to the right corner.
“Whenever Adrian is on the field, he’s a threat. In my head, that was like, Golazo!” said junior midfielder Alvaro Licea, who scored Kennewick’s second goal in the 77th minute, heading in a cross at the far post. “That goal gave us more breathing space.”
The Indians (1-12), who finished ninth in the Greater Spokane League, figured the best way to keep Kennewick (14-3), the Mid-Columbia Conference champion, at bay was to pack things in on the defensive end. The strategy worked for the first three quarters of the game, forcing the Lions to play out of their comfort zone.
“It was too crowded in front,” Rojo said.
At the same time, North Central wasn’t mounting much of an attack, either, getting outshot 35-0.
“It was a smart tactic. They played the low-pressure scheme very well,” Gochoel said. “In the second half, we were able to apply our soccer IQ and solve some problems up front. I’m proud of the boys for adjusting to the circumstances.”
Jose Rodriguez and Henry Hernandez split time in the Kennewick goal. Rodriguez scarcely had to touch the ball in the first half, but Hernandez faced some pressure in the second half. Hernandez punched away a corner kick at the goal mouth in the 73rd minute and then took an accidental cleat to the face while falling on a loose ball in the Lions’ penalty box.
Kennewick, which earned its first league championship since 1988, will face Shadle Park, which beat Sunnyside 2-0, at 6 p.m. Thursday at Joe Albi Stadium in Spokane. A win in that game would give the Lions their first-ever back-to-back trips to state. A loss would drop Kennewick into a loser-out matchup on Saturday against Thursday’s winner between University and Hanford.
Scoring—1, K, Adrian Rojo, 59:00; 2, K, Alvaro Licea (Javier Valencia), 77:00. Shots—NC 0, K 35. Saves—NC, Hebner Martinez 10. K, Jose Rodriguez 0 (40:00), Henry Hernandez 0 (78:00), Rodriguez 0.