For nearly a full half of play, the Washington Patriots did what few teams this season have been able to for any amount of time and no team had been able to do for a full 80 minutes: hold a lead against the Sequim Wolves.
But a pair of scores just before the first half whistle gave the Wolves (15-0-2) the lead and eventually pushed Sequim past the Patriots 4-2 in a West Central District semifinal Tuesday night in Port Angeles.
With the win, Sequim advances to the district championship game set for 7 p.m. Saturday, May 11, at Franklin Pierce High School in Tacoma. There they’ll take on top district tourney seed Fife (16-1-3), who knocked off Renton 2-1 in the other district semifinal Tuesday.
Sequim coach Dave Brasher said the Wolves are tough to beat because they get scoring from a variety of players rather than relying on one or two scorers. That aspect paid off Tuesday, with Ryan Tolberd getting two scores and Sean Weber and Mathys Thanche adding one each.
“That kind of the strength of our team, even going back to that first game against Port Angeles,” Brasher said, referencing a March 12 game that saw Sequim rebound from a 3-0 deficit to top their rivals 5-4.
“We can score from anywhere,” he said.
Sequim needed plenty of offense Tuesday, after Washington jumped out to leads of 1-0 and 2-1 before Sequim rallied.
“They’re a classic counter-attacking team; they’re real good at finding angles,” Brasher said. “It took us a while to figure it out.”
Washington opened the scoring at 16 minutes off a counterattack, but Tolberd evened the game at 1-1 after the Wolves knocked the ball into the penalty box; and after it was knocked about, the Sequim junior found the net.
Sequim looked to jump ahead just four minutes later when Eli Gish ripped a shot with the Patriot keeper out of the net, but Washington’s Darrick Dixon cleared the ball.
At 35 minutes, the Patriots scored on another counter attack, with David Baltazar breaking free and slipping a shot past Sequim keeper Navy Thomas-Brenske.
“It was a beautiful ball (to Baltazar) and then one-on-one … those are always tough,” Thomas-Brenske said.
The junior goalkeeper said there was little doubt in his mind the Wolves could and would come back in the playoff game, however.
“We respond so well (to being down); we play for each other,” Thomas-Brenske said.
Moments later, Weber overcame nearly getting tripped up by a Patriot defender to rip a left-footed blast from 30 yards out for a score, knotting the game at 2-2.
In stoppage time, Sequim’s Mike McAleer chipped a pass to Tolberd, who then flicked a shot past the Washington keeper for a 3-2 Sequim lead.
The Wolves dominated much of the play in the second half, with Tolberd putting shots on goal at 45 and 49 minutes, McAleer a header at 55 minutes and Tanche a pair of shots (65 and 68 minutes) that just missed.
“We had a lot of chances, just couldn’t convert them,” Thomas-Brenske said.
Washington’s best opportunity to even the game came at 69 minutes when Rylan Ellis broke free on another Patriot counterattack. Thomas-Brenske broke from the goal and snagged Ellis’ shot in midair from close range to end the threat.
Sixty seconds later, Tanche clinched the game for the Wolves with a breakaway score.
Brasher said several Wolves stood out Tuesday night, particularly Gish, Tolberd and McAleer.
“We have to shore up some stuff defensively (but) it was a good opener for us,” Brasher said.
It was Sequim’s first home playoff game on Peninsula College’s Sigmar Field. The Wolves were able to utilize the synthetic-surfaced playing field required for district playoff games.