After an early defensive battle, Molalla controls the second half en route to a 4-0 win over Crook County

For most of the match, Monday's boys soccer game between the Crook County Cowboys and the Molalla Indians was a defensive battle.

However, Molalla took control of the game in the sLON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Thomas Milat knocks the ball away from Molalla forward Tanner Nauta. Milat and the Cowboy defense played solid ball for most of the match before giving up three goals late in the second half of a 4-0 loss to the Indians.econd half, eventually pulling out to a 4-0 victory in the Tri-Valley Conference match, which was played in Prineville.

With Molalla ranked 13th in the latest OSAA power rankings and Crook County ranked 33rd, the game looked like it should be a mismatch.

Instead, with Crook County playing inspired defense, neither team was able to score early in the match. That was a stark contrast from the Cowboys' last game when they gave up six first-half goals to Corbett in a 7-2 loss.

"I think we kept our calm and stuff, and we didn't always kick the ball every time we got it," said Crook County defender Moses Freauff about the early portion of the match. "This time we came down and passed the ball on the ground and actually made plays."

Molalla was able to put pressure on Crook County for much of the match, but it wasn't until midway through the first half that the Indians were finally able to get a goal as freshman Aldo Avila was able to find the corner of the goal following a Crook County defensive breakdown.

"I was pleased that we finally got that breakthrough," Molalla head coach Ryan Gates said. "We still didn't have the energy that I wanted in the first half."

With the Indians continuing to pressure the Cowboys and Crook County counterattacking whenever possible, the score remained 1-0 at the break.

"It was a really good first half for us," Crook County head coach Jeremy Logan said following the match. "We had a good ground game, and we did really good when we had the ground game. When we started throwing it up for a fifty-fifty, that's when we had some trouble."

Early in the second half, both teams had scoring opportunities, but neither team was able to break through.

Then 20 minutes into the second half, the Indians earned a corner kick. Initially, the Cowboys stopped the play, however, Crook County was unable to clear the ball. Eventually, Avila was able to take a rebound and drive it into the lower left corner of the net, giving the Indians a 2-0 lead.

"We had a talk about what needs to happen," Gates said of what happened at half time. "The boys were asleep, and they admitted it. The second half was a much better half for us energy-wise, I think."

Following the goal, the Crook County defense appeared to be in disarray.

Instead of holding their positions, Cowboy players began to make long kicks up the field with the ball and make hard sprints in a desperate effort to score.

"I guess when they scored on us, that kind of rattled us a little bit," Freauff said. "Then we all got out of place, and that was pretty much it."

With Cowboy players getting out of position, the Indians took advantage. With 15 minutes remaining in the contest, they broke through again as Juan Rojas scored, giving Molalla a 3-0 lead.

"We had some players playing out of position in the second half," Logan said. "So that is going to be corrected and addressed in tomorrow's practice. And then we will have to readjust and work around that."

Molalla scored their fourth and final goal late in the match as a ball bounced high in the air straight in front of Crook County's goal.

Eli Rome took advantage of his height, leaping high above the Crook County defenders and headed the ball into the net for the final goal of the match.

"I feel like we played much better in the second half," Avila said. "We were looking for the space. We were a little bit asleep in the first half, and then we found the space and everything came out good."

The victory improved the Molalla record to 3-2-2 overall and 2-0-1 in conference play. The win, coupled with a tie between Gladstone and Madras, has given the Indians sole possession of first place in the league.

"We are going to keep plugging at it, and eventually we will get strong," Logan said. "I actually think we did pretty well today."

Molalla was scheduled to host Estacada (2-3-2, 0-1-2) on Wednesday, then are off until Tuesday, Oct. 3, when they travel to Corbett to take on the Cardinals (3-2-1, 1-1-1).

Crook County was on the road on Wednesday against the Gladstone Gladiators. Once again, the Cowboys played solid soccer, and once again they came up short.

Luiz Solano Jr. scored a pair of goals for the Cowboys, including a goal midway through the second half that evened the score at 2-2.

However, the Gladiators scored a final goal with 14 minutes remaining in the contest to eke out a 3-2 victory.

Elias Villagomez had an assist for the Cowboys who fell to 0-3-1 in Tri-Valley Conference play and 0-4-1 overall.

With the win the Gladiatords improved to 2-1-1 in conference play and 3-4-1 overall.

Things don't get any easier for the Cowboys who return home on Tuesday to take on the 12th-ranked and league-leading Madras White Buffalos, 4-2-2, 3-0-1.

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