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The Falcons used second-half goals by Manny Arredondo, Mizael Harris, and Noa Taylor to earn return trip to Saturday's final

PMG PHOTO: CHRIS OERTELL - La Salle Prep's Aidan O'Brien (19) marks Hillsboro's Gaby Tena Palomares during Tuesday's OSAA Class 5A boys soccer semifinal match at La Salle Prep in Milwaukie. Top-ranked La Salle won 3-0.When it comes to the high school soccer playoffs, it's all about the finish.

La Salle Prep muddled through a sluggish first half and then erupted with three second-half rolls, carrying the top-ranked Falcons to a 3-0 victory over the Hillsboro Spartans in Tuesday's OSAA Class 5A boys soccer semifinals at La Salle Prep in Milwaukie.

Mizael Harris scored first in the 48th minute, and Manny Arredondo and Noa Taylor added goals in the final 18:40 to help send the Falcons (16-0-1) into Saturday's championship final for the second season in a row, this time to face Northwest Oregon Conference-rival Wilsonville (12-3-3) at Hillsboro Stadium.

La Salle Prep 3, Hillsboro 0"It's pretty hard to realize goals like this," Falcons coach Seth Altshuler said. "You know, everybody comes and says they want this and they're going to go to the state finals and they're going to do it again and again.

"It's a whole other thing to put it into place. It's a whole other thing to do it undefeated again and to have no games where you slipped."

That's not to say Tuesday's semifinal was a slam dunk for La Salle. Far from it, especially during the first 40 minutes.

Hillsboro dictated the run of play in the first half, but the upset-minded Spartans (8-5-4) couldn't get anything past Falcons keeper Quintin Castner when they had opportunities.

"I really felt like we had a good chance before this game started," Hillsboro coach Stuart Hoiem said. "There was something about the way the boys practiced and the energy that I felt from them.

"I knew we were going to have to have a game maybe like we haven't had yet just to get on these guys, because they are as good as they are."

High energy

The Falcons, making their fourth consecutive appearance in the semifinals, may have come out a little too jacked up, and then got thrown off their game a bit when Ethan Shea and Karter Cook were each issued yellow cards for unsporting behavior in the first 25 minutes.

"I thought Hillsboro outplayed us in the first half and I thought they played very smart," Altshuler said. "It took us a bit to catch our breath and regroup when we were getting outworked.

"Then in the second half, we got comfortable and we got our feet under us and some things opened up."

Harris, the sophomore wing, broke the scoreless tie in the 48th minute when he followed his own shot off a Hillsboro defender and drove the rebound past Spartans keeper Pablo Mendoza Osornia.

"One of our players crossed the ball in and it got headed out, so I was like, 'OK, I'll just shoot this one,'" Harris said. "I shot it, it deflected off of a defender and then I shot it again and it went in.

"I think it was a game-changer. We were kind of shaky in the first half. Coming back the second half, we knew we had to stay calm, work as a team, and play hard."

Hillsboro's Olin Littlejohn had a chance for an equalizer off a free kick from about 30 yards out in the 56th minute, but Castner, the Falcons' senior keeper, smothered the shot without leaving a rebound.

Then in the 62nd minute, La Salle made it 2-0 when Taylor headed the ball from the top of the 18 into an open spot in the middle of the box when Arredondo was waiting to poke it past a charging Osornia.

"Noa flicked it over and I was just happy to be there and just tapped it in," Arredondo said. "I knew the game was over then. We were right where we needed to be and I knew we were going to win."

Taylor closed out the scoring with a goal off a breakaway in the 79th minute to help send the Falcons into the finals for the 14th time in school history.

"The second half, La Salle did what they needed to do," Hoiem said. "They made it difficult for us to get forward and when they won balls, it was a quick transition to attack and they caught us in a lot of one-on-one situations.

"They've got good players, and good players show up in big moments, and that's what they did tonight."

Bracket buster

For Hillsboro, It was a bittersweet ending to an up-and-down season that saw the Spartans edge Putnam and Scappoose in the race for the NWOC's fourth and final playoff berth. The Spartans then opened the playoffs with consecutive wins over South Albany and North Salem to reach the semifinals for the first time since 2015.

"I always say we have one of the best teams in the state," Hoiem said. "And this group this year has been kind of a different group whereas maybe we're not as talented as some teams in the past, but they have heart and that goes a long way.

"To be honest, I didn't anticipate winning league. I anticipated making the playoffs and maybe winning a first-round game. So, playing in the semifinals … perfect."

At the same time, a lot of Hillsboro players walked off the field Tuesday disappointed that they didn't have another game to play.

"We all want to make the final, but we came up short," said Littlejohn, the junior defender. "At the end of the day, it came down to a few mistakes. All we had to do was fix those errors. I mean, we put up a good fight for most of the game. We just didn't follow through all the way.

"What can I say about the finish? We were a little bit off. I give it to La Salle, too. I hope they take it all this year. They've got the potential. They're a great team."

The Falcons are in a position to win their sixth state title and first since 2009 when they defeated McLoughlin 2-1 in the 4A state final.

"We have worked very hard to earn the right to do this and I think we deserve this shot," Altshuler said. "And we're throwing everything at it, I can guarantee that."

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