Never a doubt.
By the narrowest of margins, three Spokane-area boys soccer teams are alive and kicking going into Saturday’s state quarterfinals.
Call it skill, nerves, or whatever, but when matches came down to the wire, the other guys tripped and Central Valley, Mt. Spokane and Cheney are still standing after dramatic wins in the first round of state:
• On Tuesday, Central Valley overcame a last-second goal by visiting Emerald Ridge before prevailing 4-3 after penalty kicks.
• That same night at Kennewick, heavy underdog Mt. Spokane rallied late in the game before also winning 2-1 after a penalty-kick shootout.
• On Wednesday, Cheney gave up a late goal to Othello, and with a shootout looming, put away the Huskies 2-1 in double overtime.
OK, there was some doubt.
“We were kind of scared,” Cheney midfielder C.J. Skillingstad said as the Blackhawks were taken to overtime despite dominating Othello most of the evening.
“But we knew we had to pull it out.”
At least Cheney didn’t need to go to penalty kicks, but credit the coaches at CV and Mt. Spokane for some foresight.
“We’ve been practicing those shootouts,” CV coach Andres Monrroy said. “So we were confident that we would win it.”
The Bears came through, hitting three of four attempts while Emerald Ridge was 1 for 4.
While Cheney and CV were favored and playing at home, Mt. Spokane had the biggest hill to climb, going to Kennewick to face a team that had drubbed the Wildcats 4-1 the week before in a 3A regional match at Albi Stadium.
And that might have worked to Mt. Spokane’s advantage, coach Ryan Campanella said.
“It’s always easy to look back and see the meaning in things,” Campanella said, “but I can’t but look at that 4-1 loss as a wakeup call and a character check.”
Despite a subsequent 1-0 win over Sunnyside that sent them into state, the Wildcats “had a little bit of a chip on our shoulder that was in our favor.”
It didn’t hurt that Kennewick “was definitely very sure about themselves … and were pretty certain that it would be an easy win.”
Strong defense kept the match scoreless into the second half and frustrated the Lions, who scored three first-half goals in the first meeting with Mt. Spokane.
The Wildcats were tested early in the second half as Kennewick “came out hungry” and scored midway through the half, Campanella said.
Staving off more attacks and still trailing 1-0, the Wildcats conceded a penalty kick with 6 minutes left.
“And that was going to be it,” Campanella said.
Until the Kennewick kicker missed the goal entirely. Five minutes later, in the waning moments of the match, Joe Gularte found a wide-open Zach Koller for the tying goal and a chance at the shootout.
A excellent chance, as it turned out, because the previous day in practice, Campanella had picked not only the shooters, but the order in which they would kick.
“I was fully confident,” he said.
With good reason.
While the Wildcats were 4 for 4, Kennewick missed one shot entirely and saw Mt. Spokane keeper Robert Powles save another.
“It was a proud moment for me as a coach,” Campanella said.
No doubt about it.