By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– McMinnville had been a powerhouse of sorts dating back to the 2015 season when they reached their first semi-final round game when they came down to Salem to take on the team in which they ended their season last November at Mac High:
The Scots, though their record may say 1-6-1 overall, didn’t forget that November night that saw the Grizzlies score the game-winner with nine seconds left in the game in that second-round playoff game; but the nerves were there when they went to warm-up for Thursday night’s game.
McKay remembered the talked they had in practice Wednesday in preparation of the game and really wanted to see if they could do what only Lakeridge has done dating back to the start of last season with a loss.
“The nerves, during warm-ups, my heart was beating too fast, I couldn’t control it. I was so focused you know,” said Ricardo Epinoza on the nerves. “But most of the boys, they were pretty nervous too, but they knew what they had to do out there today in the field.
McMinnville struck first, but that one goal was about it entering the second half when Juan Hernandez ties up the game as the game stood at 1-1 entering the final 20 minutes of the game.
Angel Atlamirano sent a sailing shot with 14 minutes to go in the game towards a empty net as the Grizzlies goalie misjudged the shot, only to see it take an awkward bounce that gave Mac a sign of relief as they took their turns offensively.
That’s when Ricardo Espinoza channeled his inner Brandon Morales and constantly denied the Grizzles of breaking the tie that was capped by a save with two minutes to go when the senior came forward on a corner, jumped and used his forearms to bounce the ball out towards the corner that it came from.
“When I saw the ball in the air, I shut off everything,” starts Espinoza on the save. “I couldn’t hear anything, I was focused on the ball, I had tunnel vision and I knew at that moment I was completely focused on the ball and I had to get that save and I had to do whatever I had to do to keep it at the same score, 1-1.
“I knew I had to keep talking to myself, ‘keep going, keep going, one more save, one more save’ and I was able to get save-after-save-after-save and I was really statisfed with it.”
It was the last clean shot McMinnville would get on goal as they tried from outside of the box a few times but couldn’t find the back-of-the-net as they have so many times this season when the time expired with the scoreboard burning 1-all on the old McKay scoreboard.
And with McNary watching from the stands, Scots Head Coach Ben Lopez, who reminded his team of last year’s loss, and had three junior varsity players starting due to injuries, spoke highly of the result and of his team Thursday night.
“It doesn’t matter if they’re ranked number two or not, this is what McKay soccer is all about…we compete and the last six, seven games we have forgotten, there was something that was missing and it was the intensity that we were lacking of,” said Lopez. “This tie came at a good moment, this tie hopefully it changes our path and our direction to what this program is all about. It’s hard, it’s been a challenge.
“But you know what, as a coach, we have to fight adversity. We have to continue fighting against the best teams. My guys, they didn’t put their heads down, they continue to fight and McKay soccer is going to bounce back, but I couldn’t be more proud of them. Those kids on the bench, those kids who didn’t get to play, it’s just the support and you see the fans, we got pretty good fans up here.”
Lopez said that this tie came at the right time, but the question now becomes how can McKay not rest on this. How can they use this tie, though a tie with the number two team in State, and use it as if it was a win?
“I think we showed that hunger today, we were very hungry today. We wanted that win and hopefully we continue using that same mentality the next couple games,” “I’m hoping to keep my team going. I’m going to continue to motivate them, I want to talk to my captains…keep pressing on the team, keep them going and hopefully we still keep that momentum, the rthym. I loved it.”