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The Spartans' Gaby Tena Palomares nets game-winner with just 34 seconds remaining versus the Vikings.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Hillsboro's Fabian Reyna-Chavez battles with North Salem's Diodone Kilongo during the Spartans' state quarterfinal against the Vikings Saturday evening, Nov. 9, at Hillsboro High School.With the Hillsboro boys soccer team, you often have to take the bad with the good.

The Spartans defeated North Salem 2-1 Saturday evening, Nov. 9, at Hillsboro High School, and in the process advanced to the 5A state playoffs' semifinals. Senior Gaby Tena Palomares scored the game's go-ahead and ultimately winning goal with just 34 seconds on the clock, kick-starting a vibrant celebration, but also a feeling of relief as Hillsboro avoided giving away a game that likely shouldn't have been close.

"We could've done better," Tena said. "We came out thinking too easily and with a different opinion of that team. If we would've been better mentally we could've played a stronger 80 minutes and scored more goals."

Hillsboro took a 1-0 lead to the half thanks to a Jonathan Verdis' free kick goal in the 34th minute. But while nursing a one goal lead for most of the second half, the Sparts missed on countless opportunities to add to the lead and on various other occasions allowed the visiting Vikings chances to score as the result of self-inflicted miscues — something head coach Stuart Hoiem said has plagued the team all season.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Hillsboro's Gaby Tena Palomares battles a North Salem defender during the Spartans' state quarterfinal against the Vikings Saturday evening, Nov. 9, at Hillsboro High School."I was happy with the play in the first half and I thought we were getting the ball in the areas we wanted to for the most part," the coach said. "But when the pressure gets on, these guys resort back to old habits and we end up giving the other team that chance to get back in the game."

And the Vikings did.

Following a Spartans misstep, North's Diodone Kilongo netted the equalizer with 10 minutes remaining. After a flurry of activity in the Hillsboro end, Kilongo gathered a rebound inside the 18-yard box and rifled a shot past Hillsboro goal keeper Pablo Mendoza Osornia, into the right side of the net and tying the game 1-1.

The goal seemed to awaken the half-sleeping Hillsboro team, and after a handful of opportunities to unlock the tie, Tena bailed the Spartans out when he gathered a loose ball at about 15 yards and scored the game-winner — just in the nick of time.

"I was in the right place at the right time," Tena said. "The ball was at my feet and I just turned and shot to the open goal."

It wasn't quite that easy, but nothing typically is for this talented, yet challenging Spartan bunch.

"We've got to keep our heads in the game and keep that mental toughness," Hoiem said. "We can't be careless with the ball and turn it over. The bottom line is, when we turn it over we cause our own drama.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Hillsboro junior Divan Lule during the Spartans' state quarterfinal against North Salem Saturday evening, Nov. 9, at Hillsboro High School."But when we move it to where we want and get it into that final third, we're better prepared for what's coming at us."

And what's coming at them is No. 1-ranked La Salle, who defeated No. 9-ranked Corvallis 3-1 in their quarterfinal. The Falcons, a fellow Northwest Oregon Conference foe, is 15-0-1 this season and is undoubtedly the best 5A team in the state. But Hillsboro played them tight in a 3-1 defeat just over a month ago, and Tena believes that if they play the way they're capable of, they can beat La Salle or anyone else in their way going forward.

"I feel like if we work hard and are determined, I think we can beat anyone," Tena said. "We just need to maintain focus like our coach says."

Hillsboro will play at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 12, at La Salle High School in Milwaukie.

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