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Trend continues with Estacada playing four games decided by a goal or less

by: ESTACADA NEWS: PARKER LEE - Estacadas Monica Wenlund battles for a 50-50 ball against Molallas Leilani Lopes. A second-half transformation put the Estacada girls’ soccer team in position to catch a physical, scrappy Molalla squad, but the Indians stayed just out of reach. Molalla clung to a 1-0 lead for most of the match and went on to win by that score.

“I was very pleased with the girls’ performance. For 80 minutes they battled with intensity and courage in the face of some very cheap forms of play,” Estacada coach Heidi Hunt said. “Our team is very young, so for some, it is the first time they have seen the tough, physical nature of high school soccer.”

The Indians cracked their way onto the scoreboard 12:30 into the match when freshman Leilani Lopes guided the ball past Estacada goalkeeper Jesalyn Hunt and into the net. The rest of the contest was a stalemate.

After Lopes gave Molalla the lead, the ball mostly remained in the middle of the field for the balance of the first half. Occasionally, either team would break through and push the ball close to the box, but that was the extent of offensive success.

Following the halftime break, Estacada’s offense looked like it had received an injection of adrenaline, because the difference in energy obvious. The Rangers were timid at times in the first half, but they were the clear aggressors in the second. They went after 50-50 balls with much stronger intensity and made a more concerted effort to press the Molalla defense.

“We were able to regroup and fix a few minor problems from the first half, and the girls played with much more confidence after that,” Heidi Hunt said.

Estacada’s vigor and assertiveness gave the team chances to come up with the equalizer. About four-and-a-half minutes into the half, the Rangers got in good position offensively and swung the ball to sophomore midfielder Caroline MacMurray on the right side. MacMurray had an opening and let it rip, but the ball sliced two feet wide of the right post. Two minutes later, MacMurray fired off a shot from the middle of the field, 30 yards out. Molalla goalkeeper Alisha Larsen briefly had her vision blocked by a streaking teammate, but she recovered in time to scoop up MacMurray’s ball.

Molalla saw that it couldn’t just sit back and play keep away to protect its one-goal edge, so it went on the attack. The Indians willed the ball away from danger and created several opportunities to extend the lead. Over a 15-minute stretch, Molalla produced a half-dozen decent shots, all of which were off the mark or caught by Hunt.

Estacada amped its energy back up with about 10 minutes left, realizing it had no time to waste. The Rangers made a number of attempts to get the ball within striking distance, and succeeded in getting close a few times, but Molalla’s defensive backfield also grasped the gravity of the situation. The Indian defenders turned back all of Estacada’s would-be shots and escaped with the one-goal, shutout victory.

Of Estacada’s first six matches, all six were decided by three goals or fewer. Two finished in ties and two others were decided by one goal, including Thursday’s loss to Molalla. Last year, the Rangers lost seven matches by at least four goals. They are still looking for their first win this season, but they have improved dramatically.

“In the past several years, the girls have lost many of their games by six or seven goals. This year, we are much closer to our competition,” Heidi Hunt said. “Every game is an improvement… they have come a long way in the past six weeks. They are developing their skill sets, learning to play as a team and most importantly, learning to believe in themselves.”

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