KALAMA — On just one head flick in traffic, Hoquiam’s boys soccer destiny and dreams became reality.
Hoquiam senior Osiel Rivera connected on Brenner Carlstrom’s long throw-in to grab a 2-1 triumph in the District IV 1A championship match at Chinook Stadium in Kalama on Saturday.
The victory secured Hoquiam’s first-ever district boys soccer championship. It also fulfilled a destiny started when a talented group of Grizzlies graduated last season and left this season’s squad searching for an identity.
“We just need to keep enjoying this — you keep playing and earn your next games in state,” HHS head coach Fidel Sanchez.
The Grizzlies (12-5) will host Seattle Academy in the opening round of the state tournament. That contest is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at Olympic Stadium.
“We just need to keep moving and ride this historic moment,” Sanchez added. “Hoquiam has never won a district title; and, after losing all of that talent from last year. Last year was supposed to be the year to do this. We started this season 0-2 and now we’re district champs. Wow. What a ride. How can you explain that?”
Saturday’s match with Seton Catholic (10-5) was a rematch of last season’s third-fourth place district match, won by the Cougars, 3-0. That match never came down to a nervous final 20 minutes, where both Hoquiam and Seton had chances to clinch the match.
In fact, the Cougars’ last true chance on-goal came in the 60th minute when the Grizzlies gave up a free kick just outside the penalty area 20 yards out. Seton’s Josh Balsiger stepped up to the kick, but sent the ball over the crossbar.
Hoquiam’s defense — Alex Valliere, Carlstrom, Angel Mazariegos, Andrew Carley and Pedro Weber-Cruz — shut down the wings and never allowed Seton another full chance on HHS goalkeeper Tahj Malone.
“We knew coming in that they had speed on the outside; they were a little bit like us, with some speed and size in the middle,” Carlstrom said. “It was hard on matchups, but we stuck together and communicated well.”
With the defense in full shut-down mode, the Grizzly offense grabbed possession and applied pressure on the Cougars.
Sophomore forward Alex PugaDeLaRosa nearly beat Seton goalkeeper Dylan Cole on a run-and-shoot sequence, a low driving shot for the near-left corner that Cole needed to smother in the 65th minute.
PugaDeLaRosa, Weber-Cruz, Ivan Salguero and Rivera each had shots during the final 15 minutes for Hoquiam, but the final goal came on a signature HHS play — the long throw-in.
Carlstrom, who has banked more than 20 assists on throw-ins this season, had several chances late. The best one came in the 79th minute with the Grizzlies flooding the Cougars’ penalty area with players.
The senior defender, who played quarterback last fall for HHS, sent a high, arching throw dangerously into the heart of the penalty area. Rivera ran onto the throw, rose up and got a flick header that deflected off a player in traffic and off the hands of Cole for the goal.
“It is awesome; I know every time he throws them, I can get my head onto them,” said Rivera, who scored both goals for Hoquiam — both off Carlstrom throw-ins.
“When he throws it, it feels like they’re coming for me,” Rivera said. “The loft was perfect. The contact and the way I hit it, I knew it was going in. This is the greatest feeling ever, especially with all of the doubt coming into the season. We had so much talent last year and losing it this year, there was doubt on us. To win and to keep on winning to do what no other (Hoquiam) team has done, that’s the best feeling.”
Seton tried one last push for an equalizer, but Hoquiam never allowed it to get inside the penalty area for the chance. Once the final whistle blew, the celebrations began with a water jug dumped on head coach Sanchez.
“It was such an even game, we couldn’t grasp possession and they couldn’t grasp possession,” a thoroughly soaked Sanchez said. “It was a bit of box-to-box soccer for quite a while there. We’re riding those momentums right now and teams have been giving us those throw-ins, so we’re capitalizing on them. Osiel came through again.”
Carlstrom and Rivera connected early to get the match going for Hoquiam.
On one of the first long throw-in of the match by Calstrom, Rivera was unmarked eight yards from goal and headed the ball home for a 1-0 lead for HHS.
Malone kept it 1-0 in the 15th minute when his reaction save to Danny McNichol’s corner-kick header robbed the Cougars.
Seton got the equalizer in the 23rd minute on a long-range free kick.
Defender John Polen sent a long 45-yard free kick to the far right post, where K.J. Santos struck a header down toward the turf.
The ball squirted past Malone for the marker.
The remainder of the first half and most of the second half was played in the midfield. Both teams equally pushed the other around in attempts to break out for chances.
“We’re playing together now, playing for each other,” Carlstrom said. “It doesn’t matter who scores for us. It isn’t about one person. We are all about that one goal and we’re going to do what it takes to get there.”