PORT ANGELES — The Peninsula College soccer men had been thinking about Sunday’s game since … well, last year.
The men had about as heartbreaking of an end to their 2018 season as there could be. A penalty called in the box during “Golden Goal” overtime, meaning if a goal is scored on the penalty kick, the game is over, period.
Pierce College converted the penalty kick, ending the season for a powerful Pirates team that very much expected to get to the NWAC Final Four.
Pirates’ forward Mason Haubrich said the soccer team had been thinking about getting to the championship match ever since the Pierce College heartbreak.
“The season this year started last year after that game,” said Haubrich.
The players have been training year-round, thinking about nothing but getting back to the opportunity of playing in the Final Four.
The men played determined all season, winning their first North Division championship since 2016, knocking powerful rival Whatcom out of first place for the first time in three years. They crushed Wenatchee and Chemeketa in the quarterfinals and the semifinals by a combined score of 7-0, then found themselves facing No. 1-ranked Tacoma, an undefeated juggernaut that won the NWAC championship in 2018 and 2016.
After the game ended after overtime in a 1-1 tie, it went to penalty kicks, with the Pirates prevailing 3-1, giving Peninsula its fifth NWAC championship since 2010 and its first since 2015.
“We saved our best three games for the last three games,” Haubrich said.
“I really don’t believe it yet,” said Haubrich, who scored one of the penalty kicks. “There have been a few things that have let me believe it a little more. Seeing the trophies in the locker room [Sunday] night have helped me believe it more. It’s still surreal.”
And while the Peninsula sophomores weren’t at the college yet, there was also a bit of revenge factor for some of the Peninsula coaches, who remember an underdog Tacoma team knocking a strong Pirates team out of the playoffs in the quarterfinals in a shootout in the dark at Wally Sigmar Field in 2016.
While the sophomores weren’t here in 2016, the Pirates had in fact, been watching Tacoma closely all season, long before the championship game. The Titans were ranked No. 1 pretty much the whole year, storming through the season undefeated. Meanwhile, the Pirates had just one loss and two ties, with the two teams appearing to be on a collision course. The Pirates were ranked No. 2 after the regular season.
“We didn’t get one first-place vote all year,” head coach Jake Hughes said.
“Now look at us,” replied goalkeeper Evan Scholes.
“We’ve also been talking about all year wanting to play Tacoma. We’ve been waiting for them all year,” Scholes said. “It was sweeter to win it against an undefeated team.”
The Pirates’ goal in regulation was a beauty. On a corner kick, Nico Hernandez headed the ball to Hide Inoue, the leading scorer in the NWAC this season. Inoue made a beautiful shot on a header, beating Tacoma keeper Evan Brewer, but his shot hit the crossbar and stayed just out.
Center back Chunghwan Lee then made a diving header on the rebound, knocking the ball past Brewer for a goal.
The Pirates were only seven or eight minutes away from claiming a championship with a 1-0 win, but the Titans tied it up with a goal in the 83rd minute.
Hughes said the late goal didn’t leave the Pirates discouraged at all.
“We expect to see some adversity,” Hughes said. “With this group, it sort of fires us up. Getting scored on late was a punch in the nose, but it was a good punch in the nose if there is ever a good punch in the nose.”
The game ended in a 1-1 tie after overtime, sending it to penalty kicks.
The Pirates didn’t get off to a great start in the penalty kicks as usually sure-footed Inoue and Lee missed were denied on Peninsula’s first two kicks.
Fortunately for the Pirates, however, Tacoma missed its first shot and Scholes blocked the second one.
Yuya Yamamoto then put the Pirates in the lead by making his shot. Scholes gave the Pirates a huge advantage when he blocked Tacoma’s third shot.
Haubrich made the Pirates’ fourth shot and Tacoma kept pace by making its fourth shot.
But, the Pirates’ held a 2-1 lead in penalty kicks with only one Tacoma shot left. Edgar Tavares had the Pirates’ final shot. A goal, he would end it. A miss and Tacoma would stay alive.
Tavares said he was confident all along he was going to make the shot.
“Honestly, I just felt really, really confident. I’m holding Teppei [Teramoto]. I had both hands around his head and told him, ‘I’m going to put the game away.’ ”
And how did he feel after he made the shot.
“I can’t even describe it to be honest,” Tavares said.
“It’s really easy to get in your head … and start second-guessing yourself and doubting yourself,” Tavares said. “I’ve been practicing that shot every day for two week. I knew I had to put the game away.”
“It was sweeter to win against an undefeated team,” Scholes said.
Though he didn’t get into the scoring column, the men were quick to credit defender Nick Namwali for having a great game against Tacoma.
“He saved the game for us on multiple occasions,” Haubrich said.
The men also had to overcome being forced to play two games in two days. Night games at the Starfire Complex were canceled because thieves stole copper wiring for the lights, forcing the men to play on Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon with barely 24 hours between games. That’s brutal for a high-energy sport such as soccer.
Scholes said the Pirates were built for it, though with a lot of depth. That depth came in to play against Tacoma.
“We are the deepest team in the NWAC,” Scholes said. “We played really well in those games where our subs could get in.”
The Pirates are a heavily International team, with several players from Japan and Korea being huge contributors this season. Scholes is Canadian. Yamamoto was a beast on set pieces all year. Lee was one of the best center-backs in the NWAC and Inoue was a spectacular playmaker, leading the conference in goals.
Hughes said there were some language barriers with the international players, but it was a close group of young men.
“Absolutely language barriers. I think it’s a really inclusive group. They get behind each other and support each other … kind of like a band of brothers,” Hughes said.
“We all had a common goal, saw past the language barriers,” Scholes. “We were working for the same thing.”
The men said they also got a ton of support from both the women’s team and the Port Angeles community as a whole. They appreciated that the women, after suffering a heartbreaking 1-0 loss in their championship match earlier in the day, stuck around and cheered the men on in their game late in the afternoon.
“The women’s team in general, they were really loud. We feed off their energy,” Tavares said. He said some of the women on Monday couldn’t talk because their voices were hoarse from screaming all day Sunday.
“We felt it last year, that bittersweet feeling,” Scholes said. “It’s the other way around this year, we know how they feel, we know it took a lot for them to be there.”
Haubrich said the support of the community is also part of the men’s success.
“The PA community, they’re always nice. At Saars, they’re always saying something about the soccer team. I think that has a lot to do with it … that we’re going to bring a trophy back to PA,” Haubrich said.
Hughes doesn’t have much time to rest. He and the rest of the Peninsula coaching staff is already recruiting for the 2020 squad. Meanwhile, the players can concentrate solely on their grades, supporting the basketball teams and thinking about where they want to go to four-year school.
But, for the next few days, they plan to just heal.
“I don’t plan on playing soccer for the next four or five days,” Haubrich said.
Peninsula College will hold a celebration for the soccer men’s championship at the PUB Conference Room (Room J47) at 12:40 p.m. Thursday.