By Jeremy McDonald
STAYTON, Ore.– When the OSAA Coaches polls were released last week, Stayton and North Marion anchored the two ends of the Top 5 rankings. The Eagles at one, the Huskies at five.
Stayton was doing Stayton things. Challenging not just North Marion in their 3-0 win with their systemic ways, but Valley Catholic (1-0) and Gladstone (5-0), picking up their third-straight shutout to start this young season.
“They’re all great teams and they’re all hard teams, I think that’s going to be great for our upcoming season now,” the Eagles Jesse Wright said of the preseason slate. “(North Marion) had a bunch of big guys out there. Us, we’re small. We’re a small team, but we’re used to the big guys and I think we can push through it.
“They got a hard defense, all of their guys in the back were huge. But I think that pushes us all forward. It helps us all.”
Stayton struck first in the fifth-minute off a Ishmael Esparza goal, but that was the long goal that the Eagles offense got in the opening forty minutes. The midfield with Alexander Perez and the defensive line with Leonardo Mercado brought the Huskie aggression that has North Marion always in the playoff hunt.
“I always tell these guys, ‘keep your guys heads up alright? One goal, two goals, three goals, give it one-hundred precent’,” Mercado said. “It’s always worth it. It doesn’t matter how much time is left, always give it 100-percent effort.”
Mercado was vocal in his defender position. His voice echoed up to the front in support for his team were in striking distance to the Eagles entering the second half.
North Marion Head Coach Carlos Perez alluded to in their post-game meeting what this team did three-years ago. They had a similar hard slate as they do now, started off the season 1-3 in non-league play before wheeling off nine wins in their next 14 games (9-2-3) to reach the 4A State Title Game in 2018.
“We showed in the first half how we can bounce back from the first goal. Yeah, it was kind of devastating right in the first five minutes, there’s nothing we can do about it, we just got to move on, get better and I think we did a good job in doing that. Just playing better and stepping up as a team defensively. We have something special with this team, we just got to connect the pieces,” Mercado said.
Wear-and-tear of the aggressive play, mixed in with the speed and athleticism of the Eagles, led to two second half goals. Wright in the 48th and Jayden Esparza in the 60th to separate the two teams in the non-league tilt.
“It always gives us a push forward. It helps us to get going more and more…but man, North Marion they’re a tough team,” laughed Wright. “That first goal right off the bat always pushes it harder and harder.”
Photos By Jeremy McDonald