Boys soccer: No. 3 La Salle Prep beats No. 14 Crescent Valley 3-1
La Salle Prep boys soccer got its title defense started on the right foot.
The third-seeded Falcons defeated No. 14 Crescent Valley 3-1 on Tuesday, Nov. 1, behind two goals from sophomore Vance Sheffield and another from senior Quentin Strange. With the win, La Salle Prep advances to the quarterfinals of the OSAA 5A Boys Soccer State Championship tournament, where the team will host No. 11 Centennial this Saturday, Nov. 5. It was a rainy night that caused some slipping and sliding as the Falcons aimed to find their regular footing in the postseason.
"It was a weird game, a tricky game," said La Salle senior Luke Warner, who assisted on Strange's goal. "It took us a little bit to get into the game — but once we were in it, we were rolling."
From the outset of the game, La Salle alternated between using its speed on the wings with Warner and Conor Garvey and stringing passes together in midfield with Strange, Seamus Gwyn and Samuele Marquez-Stock. The Falcons pushed in the attacking third with Sheffield and Breslin Nichols, but it was Marquez-Stock who was fouled in the penalty box in the 11th minute. That led to Sheffield's first penalty kick goal, giving La Salle a 1-0 lead.
Less than 10 minutes later, after Nichols was hit in midair during a free kick attempt, the referee awarded the Falcons a second penalty kick. Feeling confident after his first goal, Sheffield lined up another and calmly put it away to give his team a two-goal lead.
"I've been working on my (penalty kicks) a lot," said Sheffield after the game. "I missed one earlier in the season, so I wanted redemption."
Sheffield got his wish twice over.
"I picked my spot, took a deep breath and put it in," the sophomore said of the first attempt. The second required a bit more strategy, however.
"Usually I switch sides. I thought, 'He's going to guess that way. I've got to make it unpredictable.' I waited until I saw him move, and then put it the other way."
While those penalty kicks helped Sheffield get his groove back from 12 yards out, it also gave the entire Falcon team a boost.
"It gave us confidence," Warner said of going up 2-0 relatively early in the match. "During the season, when we go up early, we never lose the lead — we step on their necks a little bit. So, (those goals) definitely gave us momentum."
From there, the rain began falling harder and harder as the teams played to a stalemate for the rest of the first half. Just four minutes into the second half, however, Strange took a pinpoint cross from Warner, dribbled to the top of the penalty box and let loose a shot that slipped past the Crescent Valley defense to make it 3-0 Falcons.
The Raiders got a goal back just a few minutes later after La Salle goalkeeper Adam Clem was judged to have handled a backward pass from one of his defenders. That rule violation set up a rare indirect free kick inside the penalty box for Crescent Valley, and captain Kian Mueller eventually blasted home a shot through the Falcons' wall of defenders.
Despite allowing the goal, La Salle Prep maintained control of the match and prevented the Raiders from establishing much offense of their own. Seemingly every time Crescent Valley made it past the midfield, the Raiders ran into the defensive trio of Finbar O'Brien, Nate Taylor and Owen Nichols.
"They're the best defense in the state — nothing gets past them," said Clem, who disagreed with the call that led to Crescent Valley's only goal of the night. "It's great to have them in front of me. It gives me all sorts of confidence. I wouldn't want anyone else in front of me."
Between that vaunted defense, a speedy attack and a skilled and experienced midfield, La Salle Prep is a team without many holes.
Now, as they continue their quest for a third state championship in a row, the Falcons will have to get past a familiar foe in league rival Centennial. Though the Eagles come in as just the No. 11 team in the playoffs, these two squads battled to a 0-0 draw when they faced each other less than a week ago in the regular-season finale on Thursday, Oct. 27.
"We feel good," Warner said of the matchup with the Eagles. "We tied them 0-0, but we feel like we should have won, so it's time for redemption."
If they get that redemption against Centennial, it will put the Falcons into the semifinals — and just two wins away from hoisting yet another state championship trophy.
"We know what the goal is," Warner said of the team's title hunt. "We know where we want to go, and we know what we need to get there."
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