Madras sophomore Heidi Sedano's breakaway goal in the 78th minute gave the White Buffalos a 1-0 victory over 5A Crook County on Thursday. The win over the Cowgirls marked the Buffs' first victory in nearly two years, and it was made even sweeter by coming on their home field.
The goal itself was the cause of some controversy, though.
Crook County head coach Destanie Johnson protested the call at the time, shouting to the referee that Sedano was "three feet offside." The referee who made the call disagreed from the pitch, asserting that Sedano had timed her run legally.
After the game, Johnson noted, "I think it was blatantly obvious that it was an offsides play."
As for Madras head coach Shawn Darrow, he could not say for sure.
"From my angle, I don't know," said Darrow. "It was close, for sure. I could see Heidi trying to hold her run, but I don't know if she ended up stepping past. In fairness, the referee was right there," Darrow added. "He was on the back line, so he had as good an angle as anybody to make that call."
Darrow further noted that only having two referees — instead of the usual three — played a role in his team's approach to the match.
"I told the girls, 'We've got two refs. Play to the whistle. Play hard,'" Darrow said. "There were a couple times where we felt like (Crook County players) were offsides in the first half. There were a lot of fouls that could have been called that weren't. There weren't a lot of whistles in general."
With an understanding that the number of officials could affect gameplay, Darrow did his best to prepare his team.
"I warned our defense. At halftime I told them, 'They're not blowing the whistle a lot, and there's only two (referees,) so the offsides line is going to be a scary endeavor.'"
Regardless of whether the right call was made on Sedano's run, her goal was counted and Madras gets to notch one in the win column. In addition to being the Buffs' first win since Oct. 1, 2019, Sedano's goal broke a nine-game goalless drought dating back to last season's opening game.
Thanks to the late winner, now both streaks are in the past. For most of the game, however, it did not look like either team would ever score a goal. Both squads struggled to create offensive chances for long periods of time. When those chances did eventually come, many of the ensuing shots went wide of the post or sailed high over the crossbar.
"I loved the fact that we didn't get down after we had so many really good opportunities," said Darrow. "We didn't put them away, but it's just an experience thing. They'll get better as they go along, and they'll get more comfortable in those situations."
Some of that comfort was already evident in the game's closing minutes.
After gathering the ball just inside the half line, junior midfielder Natalie Lockey dribbled through a Crook County opponent and lobbed a lead pass over the Cowgirl defense. On the other end of the pass was Sedano, whose run put her roughly a yard ahead of the Crook County back line as she chased down the ball. After taking possession, Sedano sized up a shot from just inside the penalty box and beat the Crook County goalkeeper with a right-footed strike to the right side of the netting.
Interestingly enough, Sedano actually started the second half as the team's goalkeeper, as Darrow obliged starting goalie Simyan David's request to see some playing time in the field. Sedano played goalie the first twenty minutes, and then fellow junior Emily King stepped in to replace her. Darrow said that he felt it was important to have Sedano back in the outfield for the last part of the game.
"We had seen Heidi play (goalkeeper) before when we didn't have a keeper," Darrow noted. "We knew that she could do well in there. So, we gave her a chance, but we really missed her on the field."
Sedano and King combined for a handful of saves to keep the clean sheet intact for Darrow's defense. Part of the reason the defense was so strong on Thursday is because some of Madras' best players are in the back. Senior captains Brooke Delamarter and Yienesis Cruz are currently being deployed in more defensive roles.
Darrow said of Cruz and Delamarter, "Those two, not only are they good players, but they're really smart. They're good at using their voice. Brooke's like a coach on the field, getting them in the right spots. Brooke and Yieni both do a good job of keeping their shape and making sure they are where they're supposed to be."
Both players excelled on defense during the opening game of the season. Cruz routinely dispossessed Crook County players in the midfield, stopping many opposing attacks before they ever began. Delamarter, meanwhile, served as the anchor of the back line. She made a few heads-up clearances that prevented the Cowgirls from capitalizing when they did find their way into the attacking third. Cha Cha Ramirez and Idaly Romero also showed tenacity and skill in defense.
If the team can continue to be strong on the defensive end, it could pay dividends on offense. Having a player with versatility like Sedano will certainly help.
"Heidi's really good anywhere you put her," Darrow said of Sedano. "We literally played her at keeper, all over the midfield and at forward, and she got a goal. So, that tells a lot about her. She's young, and she's improving a lot."
Madras next takes the pitch on Wednesday, Sept. 8, against Sisters. Due to the official shortages, the varsity match was rescheduled from Tuesday, Sept. 7. Now both the JV and varsity are playing back-to-back at Madras High School, with the JV team starting at 4 p.m. and the varsity squad kicking off at 5:30.
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