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Last season, the Brookings-Harbor boys soccer team had their championship hopes dashed after a 3-0 loss to Madras in the semifinals of the OSAA 4-A state championships.
Nearly a year to the day and countless thoughts of what could have been later, a revenge-minded Bruins team met the White Buffaloes once more, this time in the OSAA quarterfinals, and returned the favor in a cathartic 2-0 win at Elmer Bankus Field on Saturday afternoon.
"I can't even explain it, just the feeling, it doesn't seem real at all,” said senior defender Bret Darger. “I mean we played this team last year and we lost 3-0. Coming back into it we knew we had a lot to clear up. So we came in with clear eyes and full hearts and just ready to play."
The match was a physical one from start to finish, and saw numerous foul calls and collisions throughout. That sat well with senior forward Ryan Botnen however, who head coach Jess Beaman credited for kickstarting the Bruin offense on a number of plays.
“It was a very aggressive game and that’s his style,” said Beaman, the 4A-3Far West League Coach of the Year. “He’s an aggressive player, and he’s out there running hard and making some nice angle runs. He’s been a star for us.”
No. 5 Madras (12-1-2, 8-0-2 Tri-Valley) posed an interesting match-up for No. 4 Brookings-Harbor (13-0-2, 9-0-1 Far West) as they were not only the highest ranked team the Bruins had faced all season, but a mirror image of their offense.
“They play our style: they play pressure the whole time, they play wide, they play in the middle, they move the ball around; they're a very unselfish team,” said Beaman. “I knew this would be our biggest challenge coming up in the bracket, and we got through.”
While Brookings-Harbor held a slight advantage on offense (averaging 5.6 goals per game to 5.2), Madras had the defensive edge, allowing only 0.5 goals per game to the Bruin’s 1.0. Moreover, the White Buffaloes were riding a six game shutout stretch, with the last goal that came against them dating back more than a month ago to Oct. 3.
It didn’t take long for the Bruins to shatter that streak however, as senior Izaiha Bruce slotted home a free kick by junior midfielder Luke Beaman just five minutes in to put the Bruins up for good.
"It was crazy, it was euphoric almost,” said senior defender Sy Sirchuk. “A whole rush of energy flowed through my body, it felt super cool."
Spurred by the efforts Botnen, the Bruins repeatedly kept the White Buffaloes on the backfoot throughout the half, as it was all their defenders could do to kick the ball out of play.
At the start of the second half, the Bruins once again struck right out of the gate, this time off a feed by Botnen to Beaman to go up 2-0.
"I have a very good offense,” Beaman said when asked about how the team matched up to Madras’s defense. “In the past we were always close to scoring, but the kids are now older, a little bit stronger and faster, and (we’re) all able to finish the ball in the back.”
In the 47th minute, the Bruins seemingly paid the White Buffaloes back in full with a third goal after a shot by Bruce ricocheted off the crossbar and passed the goal line, but the play was ruled a no goal. Senior midfielder Sam Broberg found another opportunity on a breakaway in the 68th minute, but his shot sailed just wide of the right goal post.
Although Madras boasted the superior defensive stats,it was the Brookings-Harbor backline that had the superior showing. Aided by the addition of junior defender Austin Fronckowiak in the backfield, the Bruins limited Madras to only 10 shot attempts, of which only two were on goal. The Bruins, on the other hand, fired off 16 shots, nine that were on goal.
The White Buffaloes had two opportunities in the 54th minute to get on the board off a header and blast from six-yards out, but were denied on both attempts by the cross bar in quick succession.
"We really stepped up the past two games on our communication a lot,” said Sirchuk. “Before the games we made sure we had each other's back throughout the whole game, so I think that's helped a lot with the end result."
With the win, Brookings-Harbor now moves on to host eighth-seeded Newport in the semifinals this Tuesday at a time to be determined. And while the Bruins have now cleansed themselves of the spectre of last year’s playoffs, there’s still plenty of unfinished business to tend to.
“Where we lost last year was the semi-finals, so again, clear eyes, full heart,” Darger said. “Our motto is ‘Revenge of the Sith.’”