Late-season wins secure playoff spot

Runner-up. It sounds so easy.

But as it turns out, the pressure to be second best was almost unbearable this week for the South Whidbey High School girl's soccer team. A game behind the top team in the North Cascades Conference, Sultan, at the start of the week and tied for second with the girls from Meridian, the Falcons needed two wins in a row to keep themselves at the top of the playoff heap.

Granted, the first victory did come easy. Playing on the road against Lakewood, the Falcons victimized the 3-13 Cougars 5-0 in a game that gave the majority of South Whidbey's starting lineup a chance to light up the scoreboard.

The last game of the regular season, the matchup quickly became a foregone conclusion as juniors Claudia Gil-Osorio and Lena Ishii and freshman Jenna Wild, Rita Jones and Katie Watson found nothing but net and ran up the score. At the same time, a Ziplock tight defense helped give the team a 31-8 shooting advantage, while perfect goalkeeping from Allyson Riggs kept the game a shutout.

But Thursday brought a tiebreaker game against Meridian. Having split a close pair of contests against the Trojans this season, the Falcons needed a win to secure a bye in the first round of district playoffs. Evenly matched with season records of 12-4, the two teams played their way to a regulation-time impass over 80 minutes of tense field time.

Meridian's Jennifer Johnson -- one half of the Trojans' hard-kicking pair of twins -- struck first, slamming a hard shot past Riggs in the 25th minute. Claudia Gil-Osorio brought the Falcons back quickly, scoring off a Tanya Smart throw in at 32 minutes, then coming back three minutes later to poke one in past Meridian's goal keeper in a crowd around the net.

The advantage, however, didn't last long. Johnson knotted the game in the 58th minute with another hammer-hard shot.

Two overtime periods were not sufficient to settle the contest, so for the fourth time this year, the Falcons headed for a shootout. Though Johnson and sister Katie were able to slip shots past Riggs, no other Trojan could. On the other end of the field, Natalie Schmidt, Tanya Smart, Katie Watson and Jenna Wild all nailed their shots to give the Falcons their third shootout win of the year.

South Whidbey coach Paul Arand said his team was fortunate to get past Meridian.

"That's a tough team to stop," he said.

He credited defenders Schmidt, Taryn Langlois, Rita Jones and Willa Purser with solid work in the absence of senior defender Michelle Schorr, who sat out the game due to an injury.

The win gives the Falcons a bye for Saturday's first round of district playoffs. On Tuesday, the girls play at home against the winner of a Meridian-Nooksack Valley match-up. Arand said that if Meridian wins, it could set up perhaps two more showdowns between the the Falcons and Trojans. The game begins at 6 p.m. on Waterman Field.

Also last week, the junior varsity Falcons ended their most successful season of all time, though on a somewhat sour note. Undefeated all year, the JV girls lost to Lakewood Tuesday on a 1-0 score. The Cougars scored in the final three minutes of the game to put a little tarnish on the Falcons' final 14-1 record. Six JV players will move to the varsity for playoffs. They are juniors Anna Gilles, Britt Hansen, Liz Jeffers, Taryn Langlois and Sonya Morphew and sophomore goalkeeper Ashley Cotton.

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