PORT ANGELES — The Peninsula College soccer men exorcised a lot of demons Saturday.
Not only did they qualify for their first Northwest Athletic Conference Final Four since 2015, their sophomores erased the bad memories of a heartbreaking playoff loss from last year. Way back in August before the first exhibition games began, the men were using that loss as a source of motivation for this season.
The Pirates made sure they would return to the Final Four with an utterly dominant 3-0 quarterfinal win Saturday at Wally Sigmar Field over Wenatchee Valley.
The Pirates allowed just two shots on goal the entire match. In fact, the only really serious scoring chance for the Knights came on a long-distance free kick that clanged off the far post.
The men also overcame a spectacular performance by Wenatchee Valley keeper Alexis Calderilla. Calderilla made five saves, including three amazing stops to keep the score relatively close.
Peninsula (16-1-2), the second-ranked team in the NWAC, will play Chemeteka (from Salem, Ore.) in the semifinals at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Starfire Soccer Complex in Tukwila. Chemeteka, from the NWAC’s South Division, is 6-4-3 overall and won its quarterfinal game 2-1 in a penalty kick shootout over Spokane.
“It’s a celebration of our hard work. Enjoy it, savor it for a moment,” coach Jake Hughes said. “The guys have worked so hard this week in training. This team is so hungry. Today was a reward for that.”
“They’re already saying ‘Two more to go,’ they’re not dwelling on this game,” Hughes said.
Goalkeeper Evan Scholes was on that heartbroken team from 2018, which was knocked out of the quarterfinals on a penalty kick in overtime.
“It means so much to us,” to have gotten back to the Final Four, Scholes said. “I love these guys.”
Scholes said that even the freshmen on the team who weren’t there in 2018 took up the mantra of erasing the pain of last year’s playoff loss.
“The sophomores knew it, the freshmen knew it,” Scholes said.
Hughes said all the close calls in the Knights’ game simply kept the Pirates energized.
“For us, it keeps us going. We’re moving the ball up the pitch, we’re getting great chances. It just makes us stronger,” Hughes said. “The best teams bring out the best in each other.”
Scholes said he loves the atmosphere around this team.
“We play every game the same way. If we play our game, we will come out with the win,” he said. “I live for this moment.”
The Pirates got on the board quickly with a goal in the second minute by NWAC-leading scorer Hide Inoue, who booted a powerful shot from 30 yards out to get Peninsula on the board immediately into the match.
The Knights nearly knotted the game up at 1-1 on a free kick that got past Pirates’ goalie Evan Scholes and banged on the far post. The shot stayed out, however, and the Pirates were able to clear the loose ball to end the threat.
Moments after that play, the Pirates’ Yuya Yamamoto nearly scored on a sliding shot from just outside the box. Calderilla, who is not especially tall, leaped as high as he could and topped the shot with one hand to knock it over the crossbar.
In the 38th minute, the Pirates had another golden chance. Inoue had an open shot, but Calderilla made a diving stop to keep the ball out. Isael Lopez-Plascencia had a wide-open net on the rebound for a seemingly sure goal with Calderilla on the ground, but a Knights’ defender swooped in out of nowhere and blocked his point-blank shot.
Hughes said those close calls in the first half didn’t leave the Pirates discouraged.
In the 50th minute, Theodore Baiye nearly picked up a goal again when Inoue crossed a pass to him and his shot to the right side of the net went outside the post by less than a foot. In the 58th minute, Yamamoto had his second near-goal when a header that looked like a certain score was stopped by Calderilla when he dove and tipped the ball, keeping it just out.
After 58 minutes, the Pirates had seen chance after chance, but held just a 1-0 lead.
However, on the ensuing corner kick after Yamamoto’s miss, Manny Lopez served the ball into the penalty area and finally all of the Pirates’ hard work paid off when Chungwan Lee booted the ball in to make it 2-0.
Inoue helped give the Pirates an insurance goal in the 73rd minute when he had a defender one-on-one and was hauled down on the penalty box. Edgar Tavares converted the penalty kick to make it 3-0.
From that point on, the Knights got desperate, getting very physical with the Pirates players as they were running out of time to get back in the match. “Stay focused,” Hughes exhorted his players. The Pirates didn’t retaliate to the rough play and held on for the final 17 minutes to preserve the shutout and the win.