Through the first 40 minutes, the Philomath High girls soccer team's first-round state playoff game Tuesday afternoon against Henley started to bring back memories of the season opener against Hidden Valley.
In that one, the Warriors dominated possession but could not miss Hidden Valley’s goalkeeper, even failing on a penalty kick, in a 1-0 loss. Philomath’s players let the frustration of those missed opportunities build up in their heads.
That wasn’t going to happen against Henley.
“That’s where we see the mentality difference,” PHS coach Mat Phelps said after Philomath’s 1-0 victory, an observation of how his team grew through the season. “We got all these chances the first game of the year and we kinda felt like that was in our heads, ‘we can’t get it past this keeper.’ I think today, it was we just have to be persistent and one is all it takes.”
That one occurred 90 seconds into the second half when senior Madison Rogers finished in traffic in front of the net. The series of touches that led to the goal began with junior Alivia Pittman’s corner kick.
“We do a two-person corner, so it drew one of the defenders out,” Rogers said. “I was up on the goalie and came out and it went through the defense’s legs and I hit it into the goal.”
Knowing the quality of play that comes out of the Skyline Conference — Hidden Valley and Henley finished second and third in the standings behind No. 2 North Valley — Phelps expected a hard-fought contest on the PHS pitch.
“They were a good, physical, fast team and we knew that coming in that they would be,” Phelps said. “That league is really strong and they actually beat Hidden Valley this year, so we knew they would be a good opponent.”
Philomath missed several chances in the first half with Pittman and junior Braedyn McNeely providing a lot of the early excitement. In the seventh minute, Pittman crossed the ball to McNeely on what was shaping up to be a perfect set-up but the attempt to finish missed wide right. That pair teamed up on a few other opportunities later in the half.
Philomath nearly scored in the 14th minute on a shot by senior Halle Hewitt after McNeely put the ball in play on a corner kick. In the 30th minute, Rogers took a free kick that bounced around a bit and nearly made it into the net off Pittman’s foot.
Those are just a few examples of Philomath’s scoring opportunities in the first half. It’s something that’s occurred on occasion this season — the Warriors will control possession but hit a wall when it comes to scoring.
“We definitely dominate most of our games, we just have a hard time finishing,” Rogers said. “Yeah, it is frustrating.”
Phelps believes the players kept a cool head in the heat of battle and remained positive that they would eventually finish.
“I think it can become discouraging if you go for long chunks without scoring,” Phelps said. “But I think playoff time, you know it’s going to be a tight game. I think they were pretty motivated all throughout, they weren’t really giving up.”
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In the second half, the pressure fell upon the Hornets after Rogers’ goal in the 42nd minute. Pittman just missed on a header in the 44th minute, sophomore Reese Grube saw a shot sail about a foot high in the 49th and Hewitt had an opportunity when the goalkeeper fell but one of her defenders was able to clear in the 50th.
On the other end, PHS freshman goalkeeper Hailie Couture had a couple of saves when Henley created chances around the 65th minute.
“Soccer’s kind of a weird sport. You can seemingly have a lot of opportunities and one goes in,” Phelps said about the win. “I think big credit goes to our forwards for ‘let’s keep making runs, keeping making those runs’ — putting themselves in those positions and Madison did that. As a senior, she put herself in a good position to put it in.”
The Warriors extended their unbeaten streak to 13 after the 0-2 start. If seedings hold true, Philomath might be headed to Marist Catholic in the quarterfinals, a team that didn’t lose to any 4A opponents all season. Seeded No. 3, Marist Catholic had an evening game against No. 14 Ontario.
Rogers and her teammates just want to keep the season going as long as possible.
“We want to go as far as we can and whether that’s winnming or not, we’re proud of what we’ve done,” she said.
Philomath 1, Henley 0
Tuesday at Philomath
HENLEY (6-6-4) 0 0 — 0
PHILOMATH (10-2-3) 0 1 — 1
Second half — 1, Philomath, Madison Rogers, 42nd minute.