FORKS — A Forks boys soccer team that likes to keep it light on the field was as serious and determined as can be in defending their home turf, coming out on top 4-0 in a first-place clash with Elma at Spartan Stadium on Monday night.
Three Spartans goals in the final 11 minutes led to Forks (7-0) claiming the top spot in the chase for the Class 2B/1A Evergreen League championship.
A Spartans’ win tonight at Hoquiam or Friday at home against winless Raymond-South Bend, or any Elma (6-1, 6-2-1) loss in the Eagles’ last two games and Forks will clinch the top seed to the Southwest District Tournament and a home playoff game next week.
Spartans coach Ismael Ramos was thrilled to see his team rise to the occasion.
“They played tough mentally,” Ramos said. “I told them this was going to be a mental matchup they are going to try and get in your head, and you can’t let that happen. It’s always physical when we play these guys, and we expected it. A lot of these younger guys, and they played scared a lot at times this year my freshman and sophomores, I told them to come out and be ready, and they were.”
Forks enjoyed most of the offensive chances in the first half, building up its attack a number of times only for players to take shots from too great a distance or too difficult an angle to have a chance to find the net.
The Spartans were sharp defensively with the all-senior back line of Colton Duncan, Andres Santos, Luis Torres and Marsial Villacaña alternately chasing down loose balls, stealing the ball from Elma, clearing the ball out of Forks’ back third and distributing the ball up field to teammates.
Elma did break through for one great chance, zigging and zagging from right-to-left and shooting back to the far post only for Spartans’ goalkeeper Rafael Terrones to make a diving tip save in the 37th minute.
“That was huge,” Ramos said. “He played really well tonight.”
But Forks was ready with a counter moments later as Tony Flores ran on to a ball around midfield, dribbled through the Eagles’ defense to his right and shot back left across his body to the left post for a 1-0 Spartans lead at halftime.
“Once that kid shoved him [earlier in the half], that flipped the switch and he got the goal right away,” Ramos said.
Duncan booted away a likely Elma score near the goal line early in the second half as the Forks defense continued to hold tight.
“The defense held the line,” Flores said. “We put in a new formation and we were trying to take the middle away from them and stop their game,” Flores said. “We can count on them in a big game like this.”
Flores earned a penalty kick in the 55th minute, but the shot was taken by Teo Ayala and sent ballooning over the goal.
Forks, and Flores in particular, continued to put pressure on Elma, with Flores getting the corner and turning toward goal multiple times before being denied by the Eagles just short of the goal.
“I was getting a little nervous, we couldn’t find the net,” Flores said of holding on to a one-goal lead.
The game stayed at 1-0 until the 69th minute when Flores dribbled to the end line right of the goal and sent a through ball back to the middle, where freshman Jesus Dominguez was waiting to tap the ball in.
“It was amazing effort,” Duncan said of Flores’ play. “He never gave up on the ball at all. That’s the type of teammate that we want to play for.”
Only needing to count seconds off the clock, the Spartans added some insurance goals late.
Flores and Ayala combined on a give-and-go with Flores adding his second goal in the 78th minute.
And Ayala, star crossed offensively all game long, received his redemption when he curled in a stoppage-time goal for the 4-0 final tally.
“At first I felt bad after missing the PK. I let my team down,” Ayala said. “I just picked myself up and I didn’t let it get to me. I tried to get it back.”
Ayala credited Forks’ defense for its play.
“They held up their game and kept their head in the game without being frustrated,” Ayala said.
Ramos was proud of his team for staying level emotionally in a crucial game.
“They did such a great job of keeping their heads up and keep playing, no matter what happened.”
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or [email protected] dailynews.com.