La Grande soccer boys nip nemesis Mac-Hi
By Pierre LaBossire
Observer Staff Writer
In a game featuring the ups-and-downs of a theme park ride, the La Grande soccer boys hung on tight Thursday to beat a good and speedy Mac-Hi team 3-2.
Mac-Hi gave La Grande fits last year, and the Pioneers, who came in to the match undefeated in league, gave the Tigers everything they could handle again Thursday, as they dominated the entire middle part of the game.
However, the La Grande boys dominated the beginning and, most importantly, the end of the match.
The Tigers came out fast and furious, scoring in the first minute of the match and swarming the Mac-Hi defenders to take a 3-0 lead in the first 20 minutes. The Tigers somehow found their second wind after 40 minutes of relentless onslaught from the Pioneers and took over the game for the final 20 minutes, knocking the aggressive Mac-Hi players fully back on their heels to simply defend their goal.
The win puts La Grande (3-1-1 in Division 7) in sole possession of first place with 10 league points.
Coach Jessy Watson said the La Grande boys deserved the win.
"The first 20 minutes, we played beautifully," said Watson. "Mac-Hi is our toughest opponent. They are our toughest team to play. It was a hard-fought win. They earned it. They worked hard."
Defender Aaron Nebeker had a huge game. Not only did he score two goals (including one on a beautiful header redirect), he definitely saved one goal on a sliding stop in the second half and probably saved another on a sliding tackle against a Mac-Hi forward roaming deep into La Grande's zone.
"That was work," said a panting Nebeker after the game. He said all the La Grande defenders, Jared Blakely in particular, played tough. He also credited La Grande's frenetic start for setting the tone.
"We came off real quick. Those first 20 minutes was the best soccer we played all season," he said.
Nebeker scored his first goal in the first minute of the match. Minutes later, goalie Josef Mielke booted a ball well past midfield. Trae Perry stayed onsides, controlled the long kick from Mielke and scored a sliding goal to the far post past Mac-Hi goalie Favian Garcia. For his effort, Mielke picked up a rare goalie assist.
Nebeker scored his head moments later as La Grande seemed in control at 3-0.
Mac-Hi came roaring back, scoring two quick goals, including one right before the end of the half, to make it 3-2.
The two teams slugged it out back and forth. Both La Grande and Mac-Hi had golden scoring opportunities, but neither squad could break through.
The Pioneers kept up the pressure in the second half, keeping the ball in La Grande's end for a good 20 minutes.
The Tigers responded however, forcing all the action down the stretch. La Grande had opportunity after opportunity to salt the game away, but several good shots just missed.
A high shot by Perry got over Garcia's outstretched arm, but the ball caught the crossbar. Another open shot by Manuel Arceo sailed inches over the top of the bar, and another bullet fired at a wide-open net was blocked by a Mac-Hi defender.
The La Grande boys got frustrated with all the "close, but no cigar" shots, but in the end, while all that pressure didn't result in a goal, it did keep Mac-Hi from mounting any offense.
"Those last 10 or 15 minutes we turned it on. Mac-Hi had to start playing defense," said Watson.
The La Grande boys have a day to calm down from this dramatic win, then they play at 1 p.m. Saturday in a non-league match against Umatilla.