La Salle Prep downs Wilsonville 2-1, clinches 5A boys soccer state title
This didn't completely make up for last year, but it came close.
La Salle Prep's Mizael Harris scored two goals — one in the first half, and another with just over eight minutes to play — leading the top-ranked Falcons to a 2-1 victory over Wilsonville in Saturday's OSAA Class 5A boys soccer championship final at Hillsboro Stadium.
Sky Charley-Bolyard earned an assist on the first goal in the 23rd minute, and Noa Taylor set up the second goal in the 72nd minute as the Falcons (17-0-1) completed their run to their sixth state title and first since 2009.
Wilsonville's Joseph Friedman scored with one second remaining to spoil La Salle's shutout bid, but the Wildcats' late goal only delayed the celebration that erupted moments later as the Falcons earned some redemption for the 1-0 overtime loss to Corvallis in last year's final.
"It's incredible. It's unbelievable," Falcons forward Luke Strange said. "I can't even put into words how much this means to me and the team. It's insane. It's the best feeling that I could ever ask for."
Saturday's state title also marked a high point in a five-year progression under head coach Seth Altshuler that included playoff losses in the first round in 2015, the semifinals in 2016 and 2017, and in the championship final a year ago.
"Every season had a better and better record," Altshuler said. "Everyone just put in the time. It's really that simple. There's a collective group effort and a collective group will that goes into doing something this special.
"We knew if we stayed focused and we played our game and we were a little patient, we would get our opportunities. That's what we had to do. It's a state title game, man. Everybody's coming with energy and Wilsonville's a really tough opponent. It made sense that they were in the final and it made sense that it was a close game."
The Wildcats (12-4-3) were eager for Saturday's winner-take-all showdown against their Northwest Oregon Conference rivals, but struggled to make plays at critical moments at both ends of the field.
"Just unlucky," Wilsonville coach Ian Reschke said. "There were a couple of plays we didn't make that we typically had made in the playoffs. On La Salle's two goals, we definitely had faced similar situations and made those plays. Today, we didn't, and that was the difference.
"Credit to La Salle. They have good athletes in the back that really shut us down, and the few opportunities that we did have, we just didn't take advantage of."
Back of the net
The game's turning point came in the 23rd minute when Harris, the 5-foot-4, 120-pound sophomore, settled the ball on the right side of the 18-yard box under pressure from Wilsonville's Daniel Espinoza.
One second, Harris had the ball on his right foot with his back to the goal, and the next, he was sending a spinning volley with his left foot past Wildcats' keeper George Krecklow and inside the far post.
"I really didn't know what to do at first," Harris said. "So, I was like, 'OK, I'm just going to chip it over the defender and then shoot it.' I got the shot off and it went into the top corner."
Harris said it was the first he had ever tried that move in a game.
"I want to try to be creative and put on a show sometimes," Harris said. "When it went in, I was like, 'Whoa!' I didn't think it would go in, but I was really happy when it did."
When Wilsonville was on the attack, La Salle's Wade Nichols, Aidan O'Brien, Keano Seria, Spencer Schuh, and Logan Warner anchored a strong effort across the backline, keeping the Wildcats from putting significant pressure on Quintin Castner in goal.
"We knew Wilsonville was going to try to play balls long and over the top to No. 17 (Andy Landy)," said Castner, the senior keeper. "On throw-ins and free kicks, we had Wade Nichols, our best player in the air, mark No. 17 in the air and took him out of the game.
"After that, we tried to keep the ball on the ground because we're more of a technical team and we wanted to try and play to our advantages."
In the 53rd minute, Wilsonville's Jared Perez made a strong run with an opportunity for a shot inside the 18 when Warner, the senior defender, made a brilliant sliding tackle to clear the ball. Perez threw his hands up as he sat on the ground, hoping for a call from referee Matt Finn, but there was none.
The Wildcats started pressing players forward in their search for an equalizer when La Salle scored again in the 72nd minute.
Taylor was on the right wing and took a shot at the far post from about 25 yards out. Just as the ball was about to reach the mark, Harris came crashing in from the left side and banged it past Krecklow to make it 2-0.
"I went to the back post and the ball was just there and I put it in," said Harris, who was serenaded with chants of "MVP, MVP," and "He's our sophomore" by the Falcons' student section.
"I'll say it again, he's a star," Altshuler said. "To do it on this stage, to do it with that kind of calm, the poise that it takes to be that good in those moments, he plays like a professional.
"He doesn't rise or fall with the occasion. He's steady every time and he proved it again."
Reschke also was impressed with Harris' ability to step up and deliver for the Falcons.
"He definitely was on our scouting report," Reschke said. "He's crafty. I mean, he's slight in stature, but he's crafty and he's quick and we knew that coming in.
"You'd have to stand him up and for him today, he just found that crease on the second goal and got in behind the defense. And that's going to happen. He was just in the right place, right time, and make a good run into the box."
He said the first goal was "more of an individual effort on the first one," Reschke said. "Really well done. We could have done a better job of providing secondary support defensively. But, hey, he made the play, he made the finish, and you've got to give him credit for that."
Most of Wilsonville's game plan for Saturday's final was drawn up from what Reschke had gleaned from the Wildcats' Oct. 17 league match against La Salle — a 1-0 Falcons' win at Wilsonville in a game that was decided by a penalty kick in the final 10 minutes.
"We wanted to go toe-to-toe," Reschke said. "Watching the video of the first game, it was like, 'Guys, you can play with these guys. We don't need to sit in and park the bus. We just need to play smart and compete, and we have a chance.'
"I still believe if I had it to do again, I would say the same thing. If not for those couple of plays, we could still be playing in overtime right now, going to PKs, or maybe we get one of the goals."
La Salle finished with a 9-6 advantage in total shots attempted and a 4-2 edge in shots on target. Wilsonville had a 3-2 edge in corner kicks and there were a total of six yellow cards — four to the Falcons and two to the Wildcats.
La Salle also became only the fifth Class 5A team since the OSAA went to six classifications in 2006 to go undefeated, following in the footsteps of Glencoe (2007), Woodburn (2012), and Hood River Valley (2014, 2015).
"It feels absolutely amazing," said Taylor, the Falcons' junior striker. "We came here last year and didn't make it happen, but this year, we did it. We finally did it.
"Last year, none of us had played in an atmosphere like that and I think we got nervous on the ball and couldn't finish our chances. This year, we finished our chances."
Said Castner: "It's awesome. Losing last year in overtime to Corvallis, we wanted to get back here so bad, especially those of us who are seniors. This is my last season at La Salle and getting to celebrate a state championship with my teammates is just an awesome feeling."
The state title was the perfect sendoff for the Falcons 10 seniors, who over the course of their high school careers were part of a program with a four-year record of 51-8-10 overall and 24-1-3 in league, with two NWOC titles, four consecutive appearances in the state semifinals, two trips to the state final, and one state championship.
"So much hard work and dedication went into this, starting in May, getting the group together to kick it around," Strange said. "There was no taking any time off, so skipping anything, just all focused on one game, and this is it. It all paid off and this is the best."
Said Nichols: We finally redeemed ourselves from last year. That's all we wanted all year. That was our focus and that's what we got.
"We'd played Wilsonville before and we knew their style and we'd been in the final before so we knew the pressure. We knew what we were getting into and I think we handled it well, all the pressure, all the stress, and we took it to 'em."
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