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TIGERS NUDGE CATLIN GABEL TO REACH SEMIS

By Mike Weber

For The Observer

PORTLAND The La Grande Tigers boys soccer team got its revenge Saturday.

The team that lost 2-0 to Catlin Gabel in last years quarterfinals pulled out a 1-0 overtime victory over the same team in this years quarterfinals of the Class 3A/2A/1A state playoffs.

Senior forward Greg Schuft booted the game-winning goal in the 92nd minute. La Grande coach Jessy Watson called it was the most satisfying win of his career. Seventh-ranked La Grande (13-2) advanced to the semifinals for the first time and will host Marist at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the La Grande Middle School field.

Oh my gosh, Im so excited to score the winning goal in the biggest win in school history it just doesn't get any better than that, said Schuft, the Tigers leading scorer with 27 goals. Its really nice to get revenge against the same team that eliminated us from the playoffs last year.

Im so proud of these guys because they worked so hard all year and they proved that theyre a bona fide contender for the state championship, Watson said. If we play hard in our remaining games and with as much intensity as we did today, then Ill be happy whether we win or lose.

The players ran hard throughout the game, they moved the ball well on every possession and they played tough defense. It was an evenly played match with both teams having good scoring opportunities.

Both teams had 22 shots on goal while La Grande took seven corner kicks to Catlin Gabels six. First team, all-Eastern Oregon League junior goalkeeper Dustin Fuchs made 12 saves.

Other than a 0-0 tie with Astoria, it marked the first time this year Catlin Gabel (14-1-2) was held scoreless. The game was La Grandes sixth shutout.

Although the game was a 0-0 tie for more than 90 minutes, junior forward Seth Pennington almost got the Tigers on the scoreboard as he nearly booted a goal in the 14th minute on a sharp blast from 16 yards. The ball sailed just one foot over the top of the crossbar.

Schuft, the Eastern Oregon League player of the year, also missed a shot from close range in the final minute of the first half.

Following 80 minutes of regulation play, the two rivals competed in a 20-minute overtime.

In the second minute of overtime, Pennington sent a pass to Schuft as the Tigers offensive attack came across midfield. Schuft sprinted by a couple of Eagle players and dribbled into the 18-yard box. He then moved by another defender and fired a hard, right-footed shot as the ball zoomed past diving goalkeeper Grant Stone into the right corner of the net.

La Grande held off a determined effort by Catlin Gabel in the final eight minutes of overtime. Sophomore defenders Aaron Nebeker, Trae Perry and J.B. Weber helped contain Catlin Gabel scoring leader Ben Leftwich, while effectively stopping numerous potential Eagle scoring chances.

Its so hard to explain how much a playoff victory on the road like this means to me, other than the fact that its just a huge win, said Nebeker, whose 16th birthday was Saturday.

Nebeker celebrated the win with a backflip.

I always do the flip whenever we win a playoff game and nothing could be better than winning this game on my birthday, he said.

At this point in the playoffs with the final four, any team is capable of winning on a given day, Watson said. Weve played against some excellent teams all season, including Philomath and La Salle. Competing with the best teams has helped us improve, while it also helps the players realize what type of teams theyll have to face in the playoffs.

 
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