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North Clackamas turns up the defense in a 3-2 playoff win over Damascus Christian

PMG PHOTO: DAVID BALL - North Clackamas Christians John Wang plays a ball deep in the attacking zone during the Saints 3-2 playoff win at Damascus Christian on Monday.

District 7 semifinals

Team Score
North Clackamas Christian
Damascus Christian

The North Clackamas Christian soccer team knew the challenge that lied ahead, and head coach Rick Mudrow made sure his team was ready.

The Saints dropped an early-season decision 6-1 to Damascus Christian, which went to complete a perfect run through the District 7 schedule.

"The first time we lost big, and Damascus is a team that has 15 wins and more than 80 goals," Mudrow said. "We spent the last week working on a new formation specifically for this game. We wanted to plug things up, and when we noticed their players backing off we knew we were doing what we needed to do."

The rematch came Monday in the semifinals of the league tournament.

Damascus found itself in the strange spot of playing from behind, coming out of halftime down 2-1.

The Eagles pulled even midway through the second half when Zach Nelson picked off a pass in the midfield and moved into space along the right side before crossing a ball through the 18-yard box. Teammate Nate Bogdan ran onto the ball on the far side of the field and hit a sharp-angled shot past the goalie.

North Clackamas responded by putting striker John Wang on repeated runs toward the goal. He had been a nuisance to the Damascus defense throughout the match, and would prove to be even more trouble down the stretch.

He swiped a steal along the sideline and took a couple touches toward the goal before Damascus defender Axel Clear crashed the scene and cleared the ball out of danger before it reached the goalie.

With time ticking down, it was becoming clear that the next goal would win the match.

PMG PHOTO: DAVID BALL - North Clackamas Christians Breanna Steele battles Damascus Christians Benjah Ishimwe for a ball in the corner of the field.

Carter Clear took Damascus' best shot when he got in close on the left side only to have Saints' goalie Hadden Stark make the block from point-blank range.

"The intensity of the game kept me really focused on the game," Stark said. "I was going to do whatever I could to keep that next ball out of the net."

North Clackamas flipped the field, and put Wang on another run at the goal when a bouncing ball slipped through the midfield. He had a defender closing in on each side when he took a soft touch into the middle and took his shot from about 15 yards out just as Axel Clear went into a desperate slide attempt at the ball. Wang slotted the shot perfectly inside the near post for the winner with five minutes to play.

"I wanted to make sure I got through the defense, so that I only had the goalie left to face," Wang said. "I picked the right direction to move and was able to get off a good shot."

Despite keeping the ball in the Saints' end, Damascus was unable to create any dangerous chances down the stretch.

"They did a good job plugging up the middle and making it difficult for us to pass in tight spaces — they just played great defense," Jake Nelson said. "North Clackamas came in today and ran with us better than anyone has all season."

The Eagles took an early 1-0 lead when Micah Colburn and Bogdan played a series of passes into the attacking zone, setting up a finish by Nelson in the 16th minute. North Clackamas answered with goals by Wang and Braden Young to hold the upper hand at halftime.

North Clackamas Christian (10-3-1) advances to play Crosshill Christian (13-1-1) in the league title match at 7 p.m. Saturday at Wilsonville High.

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