The La Grande girls soccer team spent the entire second half Tuesday peppering the Riverside defense and Pirates’ goalkeeper Abby Hernandez with shots. But one after the other either sailed wide, high, or was stopped by the Riverside senior, and a contest that grew increasingly physical appeared destined to end in a draw.
Alaina Carson changed that with an 11th-hour goal.
The junior stole the ball from defender Faith Rosen and put a shot past Hernandez in the 76th minute, and the Tigers pulled out a 1-0 win in defensive battle at La Grande Middle School.
“I was like, ‘finally,’” Carson said of the winner. “We needed that.”
The Tigers had been seemingly building to that crescendo and, it felt, were destined to finally come up with the difference-maker.
It almost didn’t happen, due to several missed shots and the play of Hernandez, who had 15 saves.
“We had our opportunities,” head coach Kristen Rice said. “We dominated the game (and) the halves. We got through their defense with no problem we just couldn’t finish the opportunities.”
The number of changes was no more apparent than in the second half when La Grande took 18 of its 30 shots, and had 10 shots on goal. Carson and Lexee Gomes had shots denied just about 20 seconds apart early in the second half. Gomes later followed with a shot that just grazed the crossbar high in the 55th minute. Carson put one just wide moments later, and Jenny Schiller bombed a shot from 35 yards that also missed just high.
Carson then had perhaps the best chance in the 19th minute, getting a one-on-one opportunity but pushing the attempt right.
“I think it was just unlucky,” Carson said of the continuous misses. “How can you miss 30 shots? But we finally got one in. That’s really all that matters.”
On the game-winner, Rosen initially beat Carson to a ball played over the defense, but Carson stole the ball, worked past Rosen and put it in the right side of the net, allowing the entire team and Tiger fan base finally celebrate — and, perhaps, let out a collective sigh of relief.
“When that goal went in I was extremely excited,” Rice said. “We needed it.”
The tight outcome shouldn’t be terribly shocking given the caliber of defenses that were on the field. Entering Tuesday, both teams had surrendered just two goals on the season, tied for third-best in the state at any level. Only Class 6A Jesuit (zero goals allowed) and 3A/2A/1A Pleasant Hill (one) had given up fewer goals. Four other teams were tied with the Pirates and Tigers at two.
In fact, Riverside hadn’t allowed a goal since Aug. 29 and entered with a seven-game shutout streak.
But La Grande’s defense, which recorded its seventh shutout, was almost impenetrable, especially after halftime. Riverside managed just seven shots, and two on goal, none of which game in second half dominated by La Grande.
Kara Gooderham said the Tigers possessed the ball well, especially in the second half, which led to the myriad chances they had.
“We are a very good possessing team, and I think we knew we had to possess it to score. We did that, but it took a while to score,” she said.
The junior defender added that it should benefit the Tigers in the long run to play a tight, defensive, physical contest.
“We hadn’t played as hard of teams or (games) with that much stuff that happened in it, so it was definitely good, and good experience,” she said.
La Grande (9-0-0 overall) returns to the field Saturday when it hosts McLoughlin, and can sew up the Greater Oregon League title with a win.