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Bulldogs finish third in Mid-Willamette schedule, will play 6A teams Wednesday and Saturday

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Woodburn senior Oscar Valtierra moves the ball into scoring position against the Lebanon Warriors in March. The Bulldog seniors will have two final games this week to close out the Season 2 schedule.Crisanto Ayala put the finishing touch on the Woodburn boys soccer team's 8-0 victory over Lebanon on March 25, fielding a pass from teammate Ricardo Hernandez and knocking it into the back of the net to end the game two minutes before regulation.

Despite the blowout victory, it was a bittersweet moment between the two seniors. The goal put an end to the final home league soccer game the Bulldogs' nine graduating seniors would ever play in a Woodburn uniform. Just five weeks after first suiting up for the modified 2020-21 fall soccer schedule, it was nearly all over. Only two non-conference games this week until the season's conclusion. No post season, no opportunity to leave as four-time state champions as last year's senior teammates boasted.

"This core group was a very important group to fight for a state championship if we had been given that opportunity," Woodburn head coach Leroy Sanchez said following the victory. "I could tell the impact, their motivation, their want inside of them. I know that's something they look forward to."

Woodburn is a city of champions, having collected seven state titles across the 5A and 4A levels in a 10-year span from 2010 to 2019. Ayala and Hernandez, along with fellow senior Jimmy Martin, were the lone freshman on the Bulldogs' varsity team the last time the Woodburn boys soccer played at the 5A level. That 2017 season culminated in a 2-1 victory over Mid-Willamette league rival Corvallis in the state championship game. After a forced two-year stint at the 4A level, the Woodburn boys returned to the Mid-Willamette this year and were eager to prove they remained the favorite.

Life, of course, had different plans and the Bulldogs were left to grapple with the season they were given — grateful for the opportunity to play one more time with their peers, while struggling with the reality of the situation.

"I know that they want to play, obviously be out there have fun and move the ball around, but our boys have always been one to want to play for something," Sanchez said. "Trying to motivate them and have them playing at their best all the time — it was a little bit of a challenge the way that the season has been going."

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Jimmy Martin and the Woodburn Bulldogs will host 6A West Salem Wednesday at 6 p.m. for the final home game of the season.Added difficulties in the form of a truncated practice schedule prior to the first game of the season, no pre-season games to get ready for the league schedule and a smaller than usual turnout put the Bulldogs in uncharted waters when the team took the field against South Albany on March 2.

Following a 1-1 draw against the Red Hawks, it was clear this season's challenges would be just as much internal as they were brought by the opposing competition.

"It definitely changes the dynamic with these changes," Sanchez said.

Woodburn ripped off three straight victories in its following games, outscoring Central, Silverton and Crescent Valley by a combined 12-1 margin. The Bulldogs suffered their first loss on March 18, letting a 1-0 lead evaporate in a 2-1 defeat at home to West Albany. It proved that while the boys may be ready for 5A, their rivals were, in turn, ready for them.

"When you don't show up to play at your best, there are teams that are going to show up and play," Sanchez said.

Then, before hosting Lebanon for senior night, Woodburn was tasked with taking on Wilsonville and Corvallis on consecutive nights — two programs the Bulldogs had ousted in title games in years past.

The Wilsonville game on March 22 ended in a 0-0 draw, and Woodburn led 2-1 in the Corvallis game the following night when a penalty kick in the waning minutes allowed the Spartans to claw out a 2-2 tie. Both games showed the Bulldogs they could play against the state's elite teams. Both games would have been the type of contests to show Woodburn where they need to improve going into the state playoffs. As it is, the team will simply remember this season as one that was lost, then found. One that allowed a final chance to share memories on the field in blue and white. Regardless of the final outcome, or the lack thereof, it will be one to remember.

"It's definitely been an interesting season," Sanchez said. "Playing in the spring has never happened before. Just giving the kids an opportunity to play after being out for such a long time, the goal was just to have fun … (and) that's been met." Woodburn (5-1-3) will host 6A West Salem (4-5) Wednesday at 6 p.m. The Bulldogs will finish the season Saturday against 6A McNary (4-3-5) at 1:30 p.m.


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