MILTON-FREEWATER — The Mac-Hi boys soccer team escaped with a 4-3 win over the North Marion Huskies here Tuesday evening at Shockman Field in the opening round of the Oregon Class 4A state playoffs, on the strength of three goals from Pioneers forward Alex Saldana.
Forward Sergio Alvarez scored the first goal for Mac-Hi to put the Pioneers up in the sixth minute of the game.
Alvarez received a cross pass and placed it nicely on a grounder to the right of the North Marion keeper Shane Whitehead.
“Our two forwards, Sergio and Alex, really played hard and well,” Mac-Hi coach Jose Garcia said. “I don’t know what to say other than they really worked hard and they kept playing hard.”
The Huskies battled back in the 16th minute to tie it at one goal apiece.
The Pioneers reclaimed the lead at 2-1 in the 20th minute on a goal by Saldana.
Saldana passed to Alvarez to the right of the goal, and Alvarez booted a deflection off Whitehead. The ball glanced off the North Marion keeper and moved towards the left side of the goal, and Saldana nudged it over the goal line.
When asked about this goal, Saldana credited Alvarez, but it did need the final little push over the line, according to the entire Pioneer coaching staff.
Pioneer keeper Saul Ortiz made two great leaping saves of balls placed high in the air and towards the goal in the 25th and 27th minutes.
Ortiz made five saves in the first half and the Pioneers added a third Mac-Hi goal by Saldana, again on the deflection, in the 33rd minute.
A Mac-Hi player booted it hard and off of Whitehead and Saldana headed it in at point-blank range.
In the second half, North Marion came back and scored two goals, one from Jesus Salinas and another from Rodrigo Gonzalez.
Salinas scored in the 64th minute and Gonzalez in the 65th minute to tie the game at three apiece.
Salinas’ shot flew high in the air on a bicycle kick from about 35 yards away and just over keeper Ortiz into the Pioneer net.
Gonzalez’s goal was knocked in on a deflection by Ortiz after the wind nearly helped blow another goal over his head off the foot of North Marion’s Kris Huapeo.
“I was afraid that we would relax on defense there in that second half,” Garcia said. “They (the Huskies) just kept knocking and knocking long shots at our goal, and a couple of them went in that second half with the wind.
“North Marion is a really tough team, though, and they played hard all game long. They come from a tough league and had a good record. As a team, we actually played terrible — not super-terrible, but we need to make better decisions with the ball as we move forward in the playoffs.”
“Those two goals by North Marion may not have been well deserved in the second half,” Saldana said. “But, we let them get ahold of the ball too much and the wind was a factor. But we don’t want to place blame on the weather. We’ve got to get better.”
The Pioneers flipped the switch on with the game tied at 3-all.
Mac-Hi moved the ball up field, and Cristian Torres passed to a wide open Saldana in the front left of the goal.
The crowd went wild as a calm Saldana took a couple of dribbles toward the keeper and kicked a perfectly placed shot into the net for the win in the 73rd minute.
“Alex was very patient on that last goal,” Garcia said. “He really did an amazing job of stopping the pass, looking up and scoring. It was cold-blooded, really.”
Saldana received a yellow card for excessive celebration in the aftermath of the goal and was sent to the bench until the next stopped ball.
Earlier in the match, Mac-Hi’s Moises Manon had received a yellow card on a slide tackle.
For North Marion, Aaron Caballero also received a yellow card for a rough play.
In the game, North Marion had 12 shots, eight on goal and the three scores.
The Pioneers had 11 shots, nine on-goal and the all-important four scores.
Saldana is looking forward to the next match Saturday against Henley in the state quarterfinals.
“It only gets tougher,” he said. “You can’t underestimate your next opponent. Just because you think you deserve to win doesn’t mean the other team will come in and give that win to you. You’ll have to earn it.”
Mac-Hi resumes play Saturday at home against Henley, a 2-1 winner over Astoria on Tuesday, with game-time to be announced.