As of Wednesday, October 25, 2017
INDEPENDENCE — Winning a league title isn’t just something Central’s boys soccer team wanted to do. It was something it needed to do.
“The first thing Aaron (Padilla) said to me in eighth grade was Evan, let’s go get a league title,” senior Evan Hoover said.
That has proven to be difficult to achieve.
Since joining the Mid-Willamette Conference, the Panthers have finished fifth, sixth and third.
On Thursday, with one kick — and a little good fortune — that dream came true.
Central defeated Corvallis 1-0 in a clash of undefeated teams, and the Panthers clinched at least a share of the MWC title.
“I’m just happy for the team,” Diaz said. “We won. It was a team effort.”
The Spartans and the Panthers were tied until Diaz lined up for a free kick just outside the 18-yard box with about 11 minutes to go in the game.
“I thought, I have to make this,” Diaz said. “I wanted to win. We needed to win. We got it. We finally got it.”
Diaz’s shot ricocheted off a Corvallis defender — and into the goal.
“(There was) some luck,” Hoover said. “Well, a lot of luck, but I think it’s deserved.”
What followed was a tense final 11 minutes, filled with multiple scoring opportunities for the Spartans, including a shot that hit the crossbar.
“The last thing I told them after the goal was to calm down and play defense,” coach Joe Orozco said. “They played their hearts out. They didn’t let Corvallis create too many plays. They had some real good shots, but you have to put them in to count.”
Each scoring chance the Panthers turned away brought them seconds closer toward a victory that was years in the making.
“I was hearing the fans,” Hoover said. “I could feel the atmosphere building. I knew if we tied, we wouldn’t win the league title. We had to win.”
When the final whistle blew, the celebration was on.
“Everything we’ve worked for since middle school has paid off,” Padilla said.
Fans rushed the field. Hoover let a scream of joy loose.
“We wanted to leave a legacy,” Hoover said. “This is it.”
But the Panthers aren’t done adding to that legacy.
Central played Woodburn Tuesday after press time in the team’s regular season finale and then, the team’s attention will turn toward the first round of the state playoffs, which begins Nov. 1.
As momentous as Thursday’s victory was, the Panthers also know it was just a step toward their ultimate goal — a state title.
“We still haven’t done anything too major yet,” Padilla said. “We still have the playoffs.”
Central will look to excise another demon. The Panthers have been eliminated in the first round of the state playoffs each of the last three seasons. Central’s first round opponent won’t be finalized until later this week, but players are confident that they are ready to make a deep run in the state playoffs.
“We’re not losing in the first round,” Hoover said.