Panthers roll in playoff opener

The Central boys soccer team outscores Sutherlin 4-1.



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Luis Hernandez (15) of Central elevates for a header against Junction City.

INDEPENDENCE -- Central soccer coach Rich Abrams had no idea what to expect entering a Class 3A first-round playoff matchup with Sutherlin on Nov. 4 at Umpqua Community College.

But he got pretty much what he wanted as the Panthers strolled to a rainy and chilly 4-1 victory.

"In 15 years of coaching high school I've never had a team from that league ... not a friendly, preseason game, state or anything," Abrams said. "The distance keeps people from setting up games, and we've never drawn them in state before.

"We probably could have scored more goals. Once we put a few in, I played a bunch of players who might not have played much otherwise. It slowed us down a little. But a win's a win. It's more important for other people to get playing time."

Central now will travel to Junction City for a second-round game at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 8. Junction City, the two-time defending 3A state champions, opened the playoffs by beating Phoenix 2-1.

The Panthers pretty much had the upper hand from the beginning against Sutherlin, the runner-up in District 3. But the first goal didn't come until the game's 31st minute on a free kick by CHS's Carlos Martinez.

Martinez, called "the man of the match" by Abrams, set up about 35 yards away from the Sutherlin net on the far right side of the field. Martinez curled the ball around the Bulldogs' defensive wall toward the near post. The ball skipped once on the wet turf, seemingly picking up speed. The Sutherlin keeper dove and perhaps got a finger or two on the ball but not enough to keep it from entering the net.

Central added another goal early in the second half when Ugo Gomez scored following a long period of sustained ball control by the Panthers.

Martinez set up Jesus Hernandez for a third goal at the 65-minute mark. Fernando Becerra scored about eight minutes later to make it 4-0.

"It was cold, wet and miserable," Abrams said of the conditions. "It was one of those constant rains. It never really poured, but it was a good, steady rain.

"We were controlling the ball from the get-go. We were passing the ball, playing our game. We were moving the ball up the wings and crossing the ball into the middle almost at will. We were just executing. We just couldn't finish."

Central goalkeeper Devin Conklin saw the shutout slip away in the game's waning moments. But Conklin put his stamp on the game by saving a penalty kick shortly after Martinez had made it 1-0.

The keeper usually dives one way or the other as the offensive player strikes the penalty kick. Conklin, however, elected to hold his ground, and the shot came right to him.

"At this level, I usually teach them not to commit before the shot," Abrams said. "At this level, one in five are going to kick it right at you. And with Devin's long arms, he can get to half of the penalty kicks by just reaching out for it.

"It was a really big boost when he got that save. Going into the second half ahead ... that was really nice. Our nerves were a little more settled and we were able to play and concentrate more."

Central now faces a big challenge against Junction City. The Panthers had a bye in the first round of the playoffs last season and were knocked out in the second round.

"It's going to be a tough draw," Abrams said. "But they're not as good as they were last year, and we're better than we were last year. We have a shot."



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