As of Wednesday, October 18, 2017
INDEPENDENCE — Central’s boys soccer team has been here before.
The Panthers have been on the cusp of a special season, only to see it end sooner than expected.
After a 13-0 victory over Lebanon on Oct. 11, Central entered the week undefeated and with a chance to win a league title and earn a high seed for the state playoffs.
The situation is similar to 2016. The Panthers entered their final two league matches — against Corvallis and Woodburn — with a chance for a league title. Two losses later meant Central finished third in the Mid-Willamette Conference.
The Panthers are ready to write a different ending.
“We haven't won anything yet,” senior Evan Hoover said. “We have a good record, but we haven't accomplished what we want yet.”
Prior to defeating Lebanon, Central defeated Crescent Valley 3-2 on Oct. 9. The Rai-ders led 1-0 in the first half — the first time the Panthers had trailed all season long. It was one of the few remaining tests Central had yet to pass.
“I was worried we weren’t going to react well,” senior Aaron Padilla said.
The Panthers responded with three goals in the second half.
“You have to trust your teammates,” Hoover said. “When you get down, you can’t change the way you play to try and score quickly. You have to trust your teammates.”
That trust stems from a balanced scoring attack. Stop one scoring threat, Central has another ready to step up.
From junior Brandon Jones to freshman Omar Ceja, the Panthers have seen big contributions from a number of players.
“Last year, we basically had two players score all our goals,” Hoover said. “This year we have five or six players scoring lots of goals.”
Helping to lead the charge are Padilla and Hoover, who refuse to let teammates let up or get down during a match.
“Aaron and Evan are pretty special players,” coach Joe Orozco said. “They never let down. They fight for every ball.”
Driving them is a desire to advance past the first round of the state playoffs, where they have seen each of their first three seasons end.
“The younger players have watched Aaron and I lose in state, and lose in state and lose in state,” Hoover said. “This year, we don’t want to lose anymore.”
Before the postseason arrives, the Panthers end the regular season with its toughest challenges of the league season.
Central, which played Dallas Tuesday after press time, hosts Corvallis Thursday at 6 p.m. before playing at Woodburn on Tuesday.
Both Corvallis and Central entered the week with identical records (10-0-1 overall, 4-0 Mid-Willamette Conference), while Woodburn entered the week with an 8-1-2 mark overall and 2-0-2 record in league play. Woodburn and Corvallis faced each other Tuesday after press time.
Up for grabs is a league title and playoff seeding. The top two finishers in the league advance to the first round of the state playoffs. The third-place squad will host a play-in match.
All three teams have given up nine or fewer goals so far this season. The Spartans and Panthers have yet to lose and Woodburn’s lone loss this season was a 2-0 setback to Hood River Valley, the top-ranked team in Class 5A according to the OSAA power rankings.
Orozco’s message to his players is clear: Be ready for a battle.
“We’re happy so far, but we’re not satisfied,” Padilla said. “We’re hungry.”