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No. 5 North Marion drops to third in league standings with one game left in regular season

PMG PHOTO: JIM BESEDA - North Marion junior Mya Hammack meets Gladstone senior  Emma Reese for control of the ball  in the Huskies 1-0 loss to the top-ranked Gladiators last week.When Gladstone's Rylee Nordby saw the soccer ball coming in her direction near the far post, the senior midfielder had to think quick.

What exactly was going through her head?

"Hit it hard, get it on frame," she said. "That was about it."

Nordby made no mistake, driving the ball from the middle of the 18-yard box inside the right post in the 60th minute, lifting the Gladiators to a 1-0 Tri-Valley Conference road win Wednesday over the North Marion Huskies.

North Marion's Dominique Huapeo had a chance for the equalizer in the 77th minute, but her shot from inside the 18 hit the crossbar, and the Gladiators held on to complete their two-game sweep of the season series with the Huskies.

Gladstone keeper Aaliyah Asad notched her fifth shutout of the season to help the No.2-ranked Gladiators (12-1, 9-0 Tri-Valley) extend their winning streak to 10 games.

"North Marion got some good opportunities," Asad said. "There's definitely a big change from some of the other teams we've played. I do enjoy having to stay on my toes a little bit more, but I thought my defense handled it really well."

The loss snapped North Marion's four-game unbeaten streak and dropped No. 6 Huskies (8-3-2, 5-2-2) into third place, two points behind Molalla with one game remaining in the regular season.

"We played with Gladstone the whole game," Huskies coach Ben Bonser said. "Obviously, it was an improvement from the 3-0 loss at their place. We cleaned up a few things, the team is getting better and I think we're peaking at a good time of the year.

"Gladstone is one of the best teams in the 4A level, and we had a shot at it today. And if we were to meet them in the playoffs, I think we'll have a shot at it again. So, that's a good place to be."

PMG PHOTO: JIM BESEDA - Despite currently being in third place in the Tri-Valley standings, Dani Christenson and the Huskies remain one of the top 4A teams in the state, currently at No. 5 in the OSAA rankings.Mounting pressure

North Marion relied on a short-passing game that worked well through the midfield and into the attacking zone. Still, the Huskies ran into significant resistance from Gladstone center backs Charlie Hill and Genae Vanek, making it difficult to generate many quality scoring chances.

At the other end, Gladstone countered with a steady barrage of long balls, hoping to put forwards Rhyli Grim, Brianna Lewis, Denali Nelson, which wasn't easy to do, especially playing on grass.

Gladstone put some early pressure on North Marion keeper Mallory Patzer, who made a big save on a shot by Lewis in the eighth minute, and another on a shot by Grim in the 27th minute.

Early in the second half, North Marion's Mya Hammack and Hailey Welch both had shots that missed the mark, adding to the tension that grew the longer the game remained 0-0.

"I definitely was nervous to start the game, but when it gets to situations like that, I get even more nervous," said Asad, the Gladiators' senior keeper. "But I also get a lot more energy, and I have faith in my team. We know how to work under high pressure."

When Gladstone finally scored, Delaney McNett triggered the play with a long throw-in from the left wing. The ball deflected off Lewis in front of the near post and made its way to Nordby, who banged the ball inside the right post with 20:02 left in the game.

"I was just sitting on the back post and got it in," Nordby said. "That goal was extra special, just because it's senior year and to get the ball and knock in on the goal in that situation was really important for the team.

"That was a team goal. That was a team effort and we all worked really hard for it."

Said Asad: "That goal brought a huge sigh of relief, but then I instantly realized that we couldn't get comfortable. I reminded my team that we had to keep playing hard."

North Marion threatened in less than four minutes to play when Hammack made a run down the right wing and sent a cross into the middle of the 18 where Huapeo put her foot into a shot that hit the top-right corner of the frame — the best and last scoring opportunity for the Huskies.

"A little bit sharper, a little bit lower, and that ball is in the net," Bonser said. "We can see the score line as an improvement, the play on the field was an improvement, and when you're playing the No. 1 or No. 2 team in the state and you come out with a 1-0 loss where you had opportunities, at this stage of the season, you can't complain about that, right?"

PMG PHOTO: JIM BESEDA - North Marion sophomore Dominique Huapeo nearly tied the game in the closing minutes, but her 18-yard shot in the 77th minute hit the top cross bar.Final analysis

Gladstone finished with a 16-5 advantage in shots, including a 9-1 edge in shots-on-goal. The Gladiators also had a 2-0 advantage in corner kicks and were whistled for seven fouls to the Huskies' two.

"We had a couple of chances early in the first half that maybe if we put them away, it's a different game," Gladstone coach Tyler Lewis said. "Overall, it was a good performance. We put in another good defensive shift and finally got a goal late, so that was great.

"Certainly, the reason why we love and hate the game is it only takes once chance, right? And any team can beat any team on any given day. So, you start to hold your breath a little bit when you don't finish those chances, but this team creates so many chances that we're confident there is always going to be another chance and we're eventually going to get something."

Wednesday's win marked the first time Gladstone had played in a one-goal game since a 2-1 loss at Marist Catholic on Sept. 17. The Gladiators then won their next nine games by three goals or more, averaging 5.7 goals a game over that stretch.

PMG PHOTO: JIM BESEDA - Hailey Welch and the Huskies were scheduled to finish their regular season slate on Tuesday at Corbett."I'm quite emotional about coming out of here with a win because I think our team played great the entire game," said Vanek, Gladstone's senior defender. "Sometimes it's not just about how many numbers are up on the board, but it's about what the game actually looked like.

"These girls deserved this win and I totally believe that. I think regardless of the outcome, we had a really solid game, and I think sometimes it's just a game of chance and it's a game of opportunity."

The Gladiators, who reclaimed the top spot in the OSAA power rankings after Wednesday's win, have a chance to finish league play undefeated with a win in Tuesday's regular-season finale against Molalla at Gladstone's Dick Baker Stadium.

The Huskies, who climbed to No. 5 in the power rankings, close out the regular season Tuesday at Corbett.

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