Both programs remained in the hunt for a state championship by winning loser-out matches at their respective district tournaments, with the Bobcats knocking off Woodland, 2-1, in the 2A District 4 contest and the Grizzlies edging White Salmon, 1-0, in overtime in 1A District 4 play.
Junior Cesar Corona had a hand in both goals for Aberdeen, scoring in the 55th minute and assisting on Miguel Torres’ game winner in the 68th minute to power the Bobcats back into the 2A state tournament for the first time since 2010, while a dramatic Shane Murphy overtime goal on a penalty kick sealed Hoquiam’s trip back to the round of 16 in the 1A classification.
Aberdeen (20-2) faces 2A South Puget Sound League champion Fife (13-4-1) at 6:00 p.m. Tuesday, May 17 in the opening round of the 2A tournament. Hoquiam (14-4) meets Overlake, the top seed out of the Northwest District 1/SeaKing District 2.
Few teams had a more difficult road to the 2A state tourney than the Bobcats, which survived a pair of loser-out play-in matches just to receive a berth into districts.
Playing in the 1A Evergreen League, Aberdeen had to overcome several hurdles to extend its postseason play, including winning a high percentage of its non-league contests before even getting a chance to navigator through districts.
After dispatching W.F. West (5-0) and Hockinson (6-0) in play-in matches, the Bobcats entered the district tournament as the 2A Evergreen Conference’s No. 4 seed. Their reward was a first-round clash on the road against 2A Greater Saint Helens League titlist Ridgefield, which won the match-up, 1-0, to place the Bobcats a game away from seeing their season end.
“At first we thought we would just keep winning and then we lost against Ridgefield,” Corona said. “That just motivated us a little more to keep on going.”
Aberdeen found itself in a similar situation last season, being kicked to the consolation bracket early in postseason play before bowing out just shy of state.
“We were a little bit disappointed (after the Ridgefield loss), but did they quit? No,” Aberdeen coach Larry Fleming said. “They kept pushing it and pushing it. Eventually, the team that works the hardest, good things will happen.”
The Bobcats rallied following the setback and won three straight, defeating Centralia (4-2), EvCo champion Tumwater (2-0) and Woodland.
“Personally, I thought we were going to keep going and it would end in (penalty kicks),” Corona said about the match against Woodland. “It felt great. I was really excited about my goal, but I think I liked the assist a little bit better.”
Once Torres’ goal reclaimed the lead for Aberdeen against the Beavers, it was the Bobcats’ defense, behind the play of junior goalkeeper Alexis Garcia-Guzman, turn to shine as they turned away several late Woodland scoring chances, including a corner kick in the closing seconds.
“Throughout the year we just scored like crazy, but when you play better teams in the playoffs, all of a sudden defense is crucial,” Fleming said. “This team has improved so much on defense and that’s the only reason why we are still in it.”
This marks the sixth time the Bobcats have advance to state, with the previous five trips coming in consecutive years between 2006 and 2010. The 2007 squad is the only team in program history to escape the first round as that team finished second, losing to East Valley (Yakima), 3-0, in the 2A title match.
“Making it to state means a lot because these kids have really worked hard,” Fleming said. “We needed six games to make it to state. This is their fourth game in seven days – on the road against Ridgefield, on the road against Tumwater, on the road against Centralia. They’ve overcome a lot.”
The Bobcats open state against last year’s state runner-up Fife, then could meet defending champion Archbishop Murphy in the quarterfinals.
“Last year we worked really hard, but didn’t get into state. This year we just worked even harder,” Corona said. “We know we still have a lot of work ahead of us, but we’re pretty confident right now.”
The Grizzlies, who found their season on the brink of ending after suffering a 2-1 shootout loss to La Center on May 12, ended their short one-year hiatus from the 1A state tournament after Murphy connected on a penalty kick in the 84th minute to secure the district’s third and final slot.
Led by the play of senior captains Tahj Malone, Brett Pelan and Murphy, Hoquiam is making its third trip over the last four years to the state tournament and fifth overall in program history.