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Bernhard's blast cracks stingy Lions defense in 1-0 Northwest Oregon Conference clash

PMG PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Scappoose seniors Corbin Edson (left) and Jake Bernhard celebrate the go-ahead goal against St. Helens. When rivals clash and win-loss records are ripped apart, the supposed underdog tends to find ways to make a supposedly friendly contest into a proverbial fistfight.

St. Helens played its best game of the year Tuesday against crosstown rival Scappoose. The defense was superb. The offense flowed. The Lions were calm and clutch long into the second half of a 0-0 tie.

But in a match that was too close to call, all it takes is one play to be the deciding factor. With nine minutes left in the second half, Scappoose senior forward Jake Bernhard sprinted past a St. Helens defender, who slipped on the wet grass, and booted a left-footed blast past the Lions keeper to give the Indians a 1-0 lead.

The Indians defense, equally stringent all night, didn't allow a shot on goal the rest of the way in a 1-0 win at Scappoose High.

"It was a little more interesting than it needed to be, and we left it a bit late, but St. Helens has improved quite a bit over the last year, which is nice to see," Scappoose coach Scott Stanton said. "I think our guys took this game a little bit for granted. But it's always nice to win a rivalry game and even more so a league game."

It can't be overstated how big of a result this was for Scappoose. The Indians (2-2-2) were left in a three-way battle with Hillsboro and Putnam for fourth place in the Northwest Oregon Conference. The team that captures that fourth spot automatically qualifies for the Class 5A playoffs. Scappoose tied Hillsboro 2-2 when the Spartans were third in the state rankings and tied Putnam 1-1 when the Kingsmen were 12th. A tie against St. Helens, with top-ranked La Salle Prep coming up in its season finale, would have all but doomed the Indians' playoff hopes. Now, the Indians at least had a shot going into the final day of the regular season.

"We've come on quite a bit starting at the Wilsonville game," Stanton said. "We've really hit our stride since then and started to improve, and our results have shown."

PMG PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - St. Helens freshman goalie Andrew Worlitz makes a second-half save against Scappoose. St. Helens was expectedly dispirited after the match, feeling as if it had let its Columbia County counterpart off the hook. A win, even a draw, would have been meant lifetime bragging rights against friends they've grown up playing against, not to mention a huge confidence boost going into the last match of the year against Milwaukie.

Yet, there were plenty of positives, beginning with a clear, team-wide focus that stayed intact for 80 minutes.

"Mentally, we were in it from start to finish," St. Helens coach Clark Lawrence said. "That was a really good sign. We've had games where we might have checked out of it a little bit. But we believed we had a chance to win that game. A couple of balls go the opposite direction and we're right there."

Bernhard's run was as clutch as they come. After a night full of Indians near misses and high-quality chances from all over the field, the senior forward took advantage of the slightest St. Helens misstep along the left side of the pitch, closed in on the net, and put the ball home before the Lions could get there.

"I was just thinking, 'Don't kick it straight at the keeper, aim for space,' and he did it," Stanton said with a smile.

The Indians put 10 shots on goal, getting great looks from Westin Gonrowski, Corbin Edson, Jake Boyle, Teegan Bond and others who pressured the goal and peppered the frame.

The St. Helens defense was compact and compressed in the final third of the field, which allowed the Lions to contest and tackle the Indians' forwards. Lawrence said he wanted his squad to play cohesively, for the guy next to you, covering for each other if need be. Freshman goalie Andrew Worlitz, comfortable in chaos all season, made a couple of huge second-half saves, including a tipped ball over the net just before Bernhard's score.

St. Helens sophomore Jeimar Gonzales-Becerra, senior Matteo Da Re and always-tough senior defender Jimmy Lopez restored order when the Indians drew close to the goal, often clearing free balls or stealing possessions from Scappoose. Lopez was often the last line of defense, and he did his duty admirably.

"I can't say enough great things about Jimmy," Lawrence said. "He's the first guy I named as a captain. He earns his spot every week. Anything I ask him to do, he does to the best of his ability. Even when he wants to attack and I ask him to defend, he does it willingly and does it very well."

St. Helens stayed with a Scappoose squad that's derived positive results against some of the state's best teams. Lawrence believes that's the silver lining.

"If we can play with (Scappoose), then we can play with the other teams as well," Lawrence said. "It's getting that belief going that soccer isn't just something we do, it's something we can compete in. It's getting that mind-set that we can be a good team."

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