Hoquiam’s historic 2014 season will get another chapter after Wednesday night’s dramatics at Olympic Stadium.
HHS goalkeeper Tahj Malone went from the lowest low to the highest high when he recovered to save three consecutive penalty kick shootout shots to give the Grizzlies a 1-1 (2-1) victory over Seattle Academy in the state 1A boys soccer tournament.
Hoquiam, the Evergreen 1A and District IV champions, will embark into the state 1A quarterfinals against University Prep of Seattle at 7 p.m. Saturday at Stewart Field in Aberdeen.
“I really still can’t believe this has happened,” an emotional HHS head coach Fidel Sanchez said. “The story just doesn’t want to end. To be home, to play like we did and give momentum to them in the second — the redemption of it all — you can’t write a better ending to this game.”
The historic New Deal-era wooden stadium on the corner of 28th and Cherry Streets has been home to many memorable sporting events in its time, but never a state soccer tournament match until Wednesday.
For 80-plus minutes, Hoquiam (13-5) had absorbed everything Seattle Academy threw at it. The Grizzlies were riding a 1-0 lead in extra time and the Cardinals were down to 10 men following a red-card ejection — second yellow card — minutes earlier.
After Hoquiam cleared the ball deep several times — and Malone used his aerial skills to haul in a dangerous high ball 10 yards from goal — Seattle Academy was given one final chance in extra time on a free kick 25 yards out.
Forward Reid Rogers delivered the kick and Malone appeared to have the ball smothered. However, the ball got away and just crossed over the goal line for the tying marker, sending Cardinal players celebrating and silencing Grizzly players.
“We were so close to winning this in regular time; I lost focus,” Malone said. “It worked out tonight. Everyone did great. It was just one fluke goal, but that happens to everyone. My defense held strong and I love each and every one of them. I can’t thank them enough.”
“We got quiet and my heart dropped,” Sanchez said. “Like last year, we were up 2-1 and we gave up the winning goal late. I didn’t want it to end like that.”
Less than a minute later, the whistle blew for regulation time. Seattle Academy was forced by Hoquiam’s defense into long-range shots that Malone caught full sight of for saves. The Grizzlies had just two isolated runs at the Cardinals’ goal, but nothing was created in the overtime periods.
For the penalty kick shootout, both teams converted their first spot kicks — Seattle Academy’s Evan Brown and Hoquiam’s Alex PugaDeLaRosa. The Cardinals’ Tadhg Scully missed wide left on the second series, while the Grizzlies’ Brenner Carlstrom had his attempt stopped by a kick save from goalkeeper Jeremy Moss.
Malone used the final three spot kicks from Seattle Academy to redeem himself. The first two saves were reaction dives — to his right against Luca Barsher and to his left against Rogers.
Hoquiam’s Pedro Weber-Cruz hit the crossbar, which kept the ball out, on his try, but Osiel Rivera buried his shot against Moss for a 2-1 shootout lead entering the final series.
The Cardinals needed to convert to stay alive after Rivera’s goal, but Malone sealed the deal. Against Josh Brown, Malone went to his left and pushed away Brown’s shot for the save, igniting a thunderous celebration on the field and in the stands.
“I’m proud of Tahj,” Rivera said. “He made a mistake, but he kept his head in the game and came back. Look what he did — he saved our team. More surprises this season. So proud of this team. We were down in a hole. Our morale was down when they scored. We were at the brink, but we rose above. We just keep on rising above. I can’t explain just how proud I am of this team.”
Hoquiam gave the home crowd something to cheer about in the 21st minute when Carlstrom and Rivera connected on one of their signature throw-in plays. Rivera noted that Seattle Academy had two men shadowing him on every throw-in, but found enough room for a header shot on this particular throw.
The shot hit Moss, who couldn’t control it, and the ball returned to Rivera, who poke it home for a 1-0 lead.
Both teams traded runs, pressure and counter-attacks throughout the first half. The second half was an exercise in how to absorb and withstand constant offensive pressure — Seattle Academy applied it, Hoquiam repelled it.
The Cardinals had a 13-1 shot advantage on the Grizzlies in the second half and overtime periods. Malone finished with 14 saves overall, including the three in the shootout. Moss finished with five saves, including one in the shootout.
Seattle Academy’s Sam Atkins received two yellow cards (one for dissent and one for unsportsmanlike behavior) and was given a red-card ejection for yellows. Teammate Barsher also received a yellow card and the Cardinals bench received a yellow card as well.
Hoquiam’s Carlstrom was given a yellow card for a hand ball as well.