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The Buffs started slow in Tri-Valley play but showed progress on Thursday evening

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Madras forward Eben Tapia (22) races down the wing against an Estacada defender on Thursday evening.Earlier this week, the Madras boys soccer team played in two Tri-Valley games, losing 6-0 against Molalla on the road before drawing 1-1 with Estacada at home. The results move Madras to 2-3-1 overall on the season, and 0-1-1 in league play.

On Tuesday, the Buffs traveled to Molalla to face the Indians in the first league game of the season. Unfortunately for head coach Clark Jones and the team, the game went south quickly.

"We made some mistakes really, really early. We had a hard time getting organized, and they teed off on us. They scored all six in the first half."

"It was ugly," the coach added.

The team did eventually buckle down in the second half, holding the Indians scoreless for those 40 minutes. However, the team not only lost the game, but also its starting goalkeeper. Ethan Nava was inadvertently kicked in the chest on a play during the game.

Still, even without the turbulence at the goalie position, this young team on its first road trip in league play might have been set up for struggle no matter what.

"Part of it that the routines aren't set, and they aren't used to being on the road," said Jones on why his team had difficulty in Molalla.

"The other part is that we might not have been mentally ready for it," he continued. "We're not as skilled as we have been in the past. So, in order to play well, we have to play smart. And we didn't play smart."

Back home, the Buffs tightened things up against Estacada and took an early 1-0 lead when Luis Benitez drew a penalty kick in the first ten minutes of the game.

"I took it down the line, but I knew the defender was coming so I decided to drive it into the box," said Benitez. "I kicked it forward, and he sticks his foot in. I created a foul, and that was the penalty.

The penalty gives Benitez sole possession of the team lead in goals with three. As to where the senior captain placed his shot, Benitez never had any doubt.

"Oh, right down the middle," the senior forward said. "A strong, hard kick. I'm happy about that goal."

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - In a collision of captains, Madras senior Luis Benitez (2) and Estacada senior Brian Reyes vie for a loose ball.The Rangers turned up the physicality after Benitez's strike, and even more so after equalizing with an outside-foot shot to the right corner of the goal midway through the first half. Estacada eventually picked up two yellow cards in the game, including one for rough play and one for dissent.

"It was not as bad as has been in the past," remarked Jones on the historically physical battles between Madras and Estacada. "But there were some rough fouls."

Despite multiple chances for both teams in the second half, neither could find the back of the net for a game-winner. Estacada came the closest with a late shot that got past the keeper, but Madras center back Adrian Marin saved the day by clearing the ball off the line at the last minute.

"He's got a great instinct for that kind of thing," said Jones of Marin, who made two similar plays at home last week against Summit. Jones noted that the sophomore had earned a place in the starting varsity lineup thanks to his play as of late.

Though the Buffs are still looking for their first Tri-Valley victory, Benitez says he takes pride in how the team performed coming off two big losses.

"I knew we had to bring something to the field. I'm just really proud of my team. From the bottom of my heart, I love this team. I know we can do big things. It's time to turn this thing around."

Going into their next match against North Marion, Jones noted that the team is still searching for its identity.

"We're trying to build on our successes and figure out what works," the coach said. "Once we figure out what that is, I think we'll go back to that a lot more. We just haven't found that yet."

Madras' has its next chance to right the ship on Monday, Sept. 27, when they travel to Aurora to take on the Huskies. Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. at North Marion High School.

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