|Both defenses were difficult to beat for Spokane and Peninsula in title game | Photos: Gerald Barnhart (gallery)|
The double was the league’s first since 1999 when Columbia Basin won both titles in a showdown with current East Division rival Spokane in both the men’s and women’s finals.
The league’s top two women’s teams came together in the cool late afternoon drizzle with Spokane (13-1-2) looking to avenge its 3-2 road loss at Peninsula (15-1-0) in September when they were missing starting centerbacks Sarah Nanny and Chelsea Simmet and lost Tasha Luu and Alli Floyd to first half injuries. Things started brightly for the Sasquatch in the overcast conditions with the better of play and opportunities, which were rewarded in the 14th minute when a foul was called in the upper left corner of the box, sending Gaby Kennedy to the spot for the opening goal on her conversion in the 15th.
But the foul was only the start of the physical from the Pirates, who routinely left Spokane players sprawled on the artificial pitch from crunching tackles that were either late, from behind or unnecessary. The penalty, however, was one of the last times that the referee blew the whistle against the local side, though Spokane was repeatedly penalized in an inconsistent officiating performance, including on a call near the conclusion of regulation that altered the end of the contest.
Playing more defensively and sending long balls forward looking for Briana Afoa, the Pirates were only able to muster opportunities from corner kicks in the first half, taking the match into halftime with the penalty as the margin between the two sides as the temperature continued to drop along with the hidden sun.
Spokane came out in the second half and had a pair of early chances only to see Peninsula goalkeeper Denae Brooks, who was shaky most of the weekend despite the team’s success, make a pair of saves.
At the hour mark a surprise foul call created a free kick opportunity for the Pirates in the offensive end. Afoa sent the ball off the restart into the crossbar, ricocheting fortunately into the stomach of Kendra Miner and into the back of the net for the equalizer.
The two sides slogged through a frenzied desire for the win, battling the elements and the fatigue of playing on back-to-back days for the first time since preseason looking to find the deciding tally.
A potentially deciding call would come, though, in the 89th minute when a quick counter for Peninsula was brought to a halt with a foul from Laura Seymour on Miner, who was sprinting toward the midfield stripe when she was sandwiched by Nanny on one side and Seymour, who charged in and caught Miner hard with her body as the striker slowed with Toni Tapplin also approaching from directly in front of her.
Instead of issuing the clear yellow card for the foul, the referee brandished the red, leaving Spokane with 10 for the remainder of the contest, and ultimately looking for penalties as the final few minutes of extra time ticked away. And in those last few minutes, it appeared the battle-worn Pirates were also content to just boot the ball away and watch the seconds dwindle from the clock.
The Pirates, looking to claim the championship after coming up short in their first-ever appearance in the women’s final the year before, found a bit of fortune on the opening shot of the tiebreaker when Kennedy stunningly sent her effort off the left corner of the crossbar. From that point Spokane battled to pull even as Afoa converted on the next shot and things really compounded with Kat Tsoukalas sending a slow roller to the right that Brooks stopped.
Peninsula’s Sidney Bullington made it a two-conversion difference and Spokane’s Jamie Krediet kept the Bigfoot in it. Shelbi Vienna-Hallam kept the margin at two and Luu converted for Spokane in the fourth round to keep things going. Then Asia Porter, largely untested on the day, made a nice diving save on Annie Armstrong’s attempt to send the shootout to the fifth round with the Pirates only up one. Alli Floyd’s attempt to the left, however, was too close to the keeper, allowing Brooks to make the stop and send her teammates at midfield into a sprint of exhilaration and celebration as they came to mob her.
|Spokane sophomores with East Championship trophy|
“It is always hard to compare teams year after year, so I won't try but this team was obviously special,” said head coach Jim Martinson. “The top three goal scorers in our history along with a statistical leader in our goal, eight all-stars, a region MVP and the best depth we've had made for a very successful season.
“The true story lies in the adversity this group dealt with - two torn ACL's, a torn MCL, a concussion, a bruised kidney and all the usual minor injuries were all overcome this year. We must have had 9-10 different starting lineups and all were successful. I think that is a testament to the type of true athletes these kids were.
“They were a family and I couldn't be more proud of this group of ladies.”
NWAACC MEN’S FINAL
The contest went to the break scoreless. Walla Walla had the first dangerous first half opportunity in the 32nd minute on a Johnathan Rodriguez free kick that resulted in a header just over the crossbar. The Pirates tested Warriors goalkeeper Daniel Romero at the other end several times, meanwhile, before the half came to a close.
Romero continued to come up big for the Warriors as the game continued through the second stanza, making a huge save in the 64th minute and another four minutes later that was followed up by a goal-line clearance of the second chance off the rebound.
With just three minutes remaining Peninsula finally put one past Romero when Martinez gathered a ball from Daniel Gonzalez and drove into the box briefly before sending the shot home.
Moments later tempers flared and Gonzalez was sent off, but it was too late for Walla Walla to fully utilize the man advantage for an equalizer, allowing Peninsula to claim its second men’s championship in three years.
NWAACC ALL-STAR GAMES
In the opening match of the day, the East-West women’s All-Star team came up short, 2-1, against the North-South. Trailing by two, Walla’s Paige Sorensen - one of six Warriors on the squad with all the other East representatives playing in the Final for Spokane - provide hope of a rally, but they were unable to find the equalizer.
The second match, featuring players from Spokane, Columbia Basin and Treasure Valley, also fell behind early. Spokane’s Isaac Peter set up CBC’s Richard Renteria in the second half to make it 2-1, but the other side proved too much in the friendly as they cruised to a 4-1 victory. List of East Division All-Stars [+]