It was the last hurrah in a season of many for Gonzaga Prep boys soccer.
The Bullpups wrung every ounce of drama out of Tuesday night’s District 8 4A boys soccer match against Walla Walla – even after it ended.
Following a 2-1 shootout loss to the Blue Devils, coach Vernon Croft gathered his eight seniors and their teammates at midfield and gave one more pep talk.
“This is a very special group of boys that have made Gonzaga Prep a very respectable program,” Croft said.
The hard work began in early March, with shovels to clear the snow from Bullpup Stadium. It ended on the same spot, on a balmy evening in front of several hundred fans.
“It was an unbelievable match and I couldn’t be more proud of how we competed to get ourselves back in the match,” Croft said.
G-Prep’s loss capped a tough night for the Greater Spokane League, which went 0-4 against teams from the Mid-Columbia Conference.
The GSL began the night with seven teams still in contention for a playoff berth; now it’s down to three.
The Bullpups (12-5) were playing uphill for most of the evening. G-Prep goalkeeper Isaiah Damschen made a great save in the 13th minute, but seconds later the Blue Devils’ Juan Montero headed home a corner kick from close range to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.
Walla Walla dominated possession for most of the match, outshooting G-Prep 21-9 and forcing Damschen into making seven saves. At the other end, the Bulldogs made little headway against a well-organized Blue Devils back line.
Croft made a few tactical changes “to get more numbers forward.”
The Bullpups almost paid for their aggressiveness in the 53rd minute when a dangerous cross was deflected in the goalmouth.
Three minutes later, G-Prep senior midfield Ethan Watkins found space from 25 yards out. He unleashed a wicked volley that was barely pushed aside by Walla Walla keeper Aldo Feria.
With 7 minutes left in regulation, Watkins did it again – this time from 35 yards away – and found the back of the net.
“I just chested the ball down,” Watkins said. “We needed a goal, so I just took the shot and hoped for the best.”
As the ball flew past Feria, the crowd came alive – and stayed that way the rest of the night.
The Bullpups had the better of it for the last 7 minutes of regulation and both 5-minute overtimes, and it briefly carried into the shootout.
Watkins and Parker Daniel were good on their kicks, while Walla Walla’s second kick was saved by Damschen. A miss by G-Prep on the third kick let the Blue Devils back in it.
Jacob Bach and Luke Denke also converted for G-Prep, but so did the Walla Walla kickers, setting up the sudden-death penalty phase.
It ended quickly. Feria saved the next Bullpups shot, then took the winner himself.
“I’ll take us nine times out of 10 in a shootout,” Croft said. “Every game is a game of inches.”
Richland 2, Ferris 1: The visiting Bombers got the winner with 2 minutes left in regulation to end the Saxons’ season at 13-3. Richland will play Walla Walla for the region’s third state berth. Lewis and Clark and Pasco – who play for the regional title on Thursday – have already locked up spots at state.
District 8 3A
Rogers 2, Mt. Spokane 1 (2OT): The Pirates scored late in the second overtime to eliminate the Wildcats and advance to another loser-out match, Thursday in Kennewick against Kamiakin.
Kamiakin 4, Shadle Park 1: The Braves scored twice in the first half, then added another goal early in the second to eliminate the visiting Highlanders (4-13).
Kennewick 3, North Central 0: The Lions outshot NC 22-8 and scored twice in the first half to win the district title and a berth at state. NC (7-8) will play Saturday at 2 p.m. at Albi Stadium against Rogers or Kamiakin for the second state berth.