In the end, the match came down to a crossbar and a ball that trickled inches over the goal line.
Wednesday’s Northwest Athletic Conference first round contest between Walla Walla and Peninsula was that close as No. 8-ranked Walla Walla knocked the Pirates out of the playoffs with a 1-0 win.
It was a match the No. 4-ranked Pirates controlled over much of the 90 minutes, but they simply could never punch the ball in. They had 14 shots and eight corner kicks and several near-misses, but the ball would not cooperate.
The Pirates were also forced to play without much of their firepower. NWAC leading goal-scorer Cesar Gervacio, NWAC leading assist man Adrian Benitez and midfielder Noah Scofield were all out injured. Gervacio pulled a hamstring in a game last week against Edmonds, Benitez sprained his MCL in practice the day before the match and Scofield had a dislocated patellar tendon.
They especially felt Gervacio’s absence because he is such a great finisher and so dangerous on the corner kicks.
“The game mapped out as we thought,” said coach Jake Hughes. “They sat back with all 11 men. Their goal came off a lapse. They never broke us down. We were our own worst enemy.
“We created chances. We had a lot of chances. The ball just wouldn’t go in,” Hughes said. “Our players didn’t deserve it.”
One of those golden chances came very early in the match. A screaming shot by Joey Hollimon in the first four minutes forced Warriors keeper Jorge Llerenas to make a diving save.
Llerenas ended up with nine saves, but it was the only time the Pirates were able to force the Warriors’ keeper to dive for a ball. Peninsula did a good job putting on pressure and forcing a number of corner kicks and free kicks in the penalty area, but shots kept going just wide or just high.
Hollimon in particular put on a lot of pressure early. He had another point-blank shot from the side of the goal, but Llerenas was in perfect position and gobbled it up. Then, Hollimon had another golden opportunity in the 30th minute when he hit a high shot that looked pretty, but it banged off the crossbar.
Seconds after Hollimon’s crossbar shot, Walla Walla’s Freddy Rodriguez struck from a sharp angle on the left wing that trickled away from Peninsula goalie Darius Ochoa and barely crossed the goal line before it was punched out by a Pirate defender. After some initial confusion about whether it was actually a goal, the referee ruled it had crossed the line and the Warriors took a 1-0 lead.
The second half got off to a strange start when the clock didn’t start, then started running down rather than up before it was fixed. This became a controversy later in the match.
The ball stayed in Walla Walla’s end for much of the second half. In the second half in particular, Peninsula’s Juan Carrillo-Perez put a lot of pressure on the Warriors’ defense with ferocious runs down the wings, creating shots and dangerous crossing passes in front of the net.
When the game was stopped because a Walla Walla player was injured and had to be carted off, the Pirates exhorted each other, “We gotta work … Never give up.”
Peninsula took those words to heart, keeping the ball in Walla Walla’s end most of the second half. The Pirates had four corner kicks after halftime and six shots (including a Hollimon header on a free kick that just missed the goal) but the ball simply would not go in.
Peninsula was dismayed to find out with four minutes left that there would be no stoppage time after the 90th minute because of the clock malfunction at the beginning of the half. With not much time to work with, the Pirates managed to get one more corner kick forced by Carrillo-Perez in the 89th minute, but yet again a header just missed and Walla Walla walked off with the victory.
Hughes said that while it was a heartbreaking end to the season, was a successful year.
“Overall it was a good year. We had a young squad that performed well. We only lost one game in the division. I’m excited about the freshmen coming back next year. And we’ll come back stronger,” Hughes said.
The loss leaves the Pirates with an overall record of 10-2-4. Walla Walla goes on to play Portland in the second round of the NWAC playoffs.
The Pirates graduate Gervacio, Carrillo-Perez, Benitez, Hollimon, Michael Day and Sergio Gonzalez Reyes. Gervacio, Carrillo-Perez and Hollimon were the leading scorers for the Pirates and likely will all make NWAC all-league teams, but the Pirates return 17 freshmen for next year.