One of the focuses of the Brookings-Harbor boys soccer team throughout the season has been ensuring that they start their games off on a strong note.
And on Wednesday afternoon, the Bruins (12-0-2, 9-0-1) couldn’t have asked for a better start, as they scored two goals in the first nine minutes of a 3-0 win over North Valley (8-5-2, 6-3-1) at Elmer Bankus field in the first round of the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) 4A-State Playoffs.
The No. 4 Bruins, whose last game was on Oct. 19, showed no signs of rust as they repeatedly pushed the ball downfield at a breakneck pace and unloaded a number of threatening shots towards the No. 13 Knights' goal box.
It didn’t take long for the Bruins to hit paydirt as, Luke Beaman, who had a hand in all three of the Bruins’ goals, converted a header off a cross by Sam Broberg in the 4th minute to put the Bruins up for good. Five minutes later, Beaman found the back of the net once more after finessing the ball between two defenders and unloading it from the top of the box.
Head coach Jess Beaman explained that the Bruins’ strong offensive showing out of the gate may have been an unintentional result of the team’s focus on defense in practice.
“I know my offense is strong, I know my midfield is strong, so we just went right after our defense pretty hard,” Beaman said. “I think that helped my offense because my defense is so physical. It helped them figure out what they needed to do to score, so I think that's a little bit of the difference there.”
Senior goalkeeper Jaime Cruz, who tallied at least seven saves, explained that the Bruins never lost sight of their state championship aspirations during their 10-day hiatus.
"Practices are just intense, we've never let up and we treated (them) like every other game,” Cruz said. “We came together; we played hard. We relaxed a little because it's a long, tiring season, but,when it came down to it, we were always staying focused, always practicing hard, and trying to get that state championship."
As evident by the shutout, the Bruins’ efforts in practice also yielded positive results on the defensive end. In a nonconference meeting earlier this year, the Bruins narrowly edged out the Knights in a 5-4 shootout. During that game, the Bruins also held a two-goal lead at 3-1, but found themselves on the backfoot after three straight North Valley goals.
To prevent a repeat of that this go-around, the Bruins tightened things up defensively after procuring the 2-0 lead.
“We wanted to lock it down and make sure they couldn't get any back,” said junior midfielder Roman Worthey.
The Bruins wouldn’t score again until the 62nd minute, when sophomore midfielder Jai Valdovinos converted a free kick by Beaman off the bench to make it 3-0.
Beaman noted Valdovinos provided an added layer of depth in the midfield for the Bruins, who typically created their shot opportunities from the sidelines.
"I think it confuses people when we do that, so that's why I kind of wait until the 20 minute mark (to put him in),” Beaman explained. “(They) think we're trying to go out to (our wings) for speed and they adjust to that; then I put Jayer in there and they haven't figured out how to adjust back by the time he sneaks a goal or pass in.
“He doesn't look like much, but he's a player, he battles, and he's one of the most competitive kids I have on my team. He wants to get out there and make an impact, and he does."
Standing at 5 feet 7 inches, Valdovinos is the shortest player on a Bruin team that typically holds a height advantage over opponents. Therefore, it was fitting that Valdovinos was one of the players to score against a North Valley that had the Bruins beat in terms of size: While the Bruins have used their height to great effect, it wasn’t what defined them.
"[North Valley’s] a very good team; they're very fast, they're very big, but we're way more skilled,” Cruz said. “We are one of the most skilled teams in the state, I [truly] believe that. The way we move the ball round, we can get around [anyone].
“Size and speed is definitely a factor with us in our games, but it's not everything.”
The Bruins now move on to host the quarterfinals of the OSAA playoffs, where they have a chance for revenge against No. 5 Madras, the team that ended their playoff run in the semifinals last year. Game time is scheduled for 1 p.m.
"The kids are ready, they want it bad,” Beaman said. “They got to semis last year, and they're really pushing hard to finish this year."