PORT ANGELES — She never doubted what her team could do, but a poor first half by Port Angeles was enough for some negative thoughts to begin creeping into the mind of senior midfielder Delaney Wenzl.
Things did not go the Roughriders’ way in the first 40 minutes of the team’s Class 2A Girls Soccer State Tournament First Round match with the Sehome Mariners at Wally Sigmar Field at Peninsula College on Tuesday night.
A step slow to the ball defensively, and just a little behind in the attack despite some good chances on offense, Port Angeles trailed 1-0 at the break.
But the Riders regrouped and showed their star power after halftime — Wenzl scored two goals with another coming from Millie Long — as Port Angeles pulled away for a 3-1 win over Sehome.
The victory, the third state win in school history for the Riders, sets up a contest at Ridgefield at 4 p.m. Saturday. The Spudders (16-4-0) shut out Sequim 3-0 Tuesday night in Ridgefield to prevent a fourth Sequim-Port Angeles contest on the season.
It wasn’t an easy victory and Wenzl admitted the team’s first half performance left a lot to be desired.
“I knew this team could do it all along, but after seeing the first half you get a little on edge,” Wenzl said. “I’m beyond proud that we were able to make that comeback in the second half.”
Wenzl was instructed to play more centrally when she was subbed out before intermission.
“That was our issue, we were getting pulled out wide and they would go right back to the middle where there was no one,” Wenzl said of the first-half struggles.
Long, who had a number of near misses on shots in the first half, said the halftime message was simple.
“I felt like we started kind of slow and we couldn’t find the momentum,” Long said. “When they scored I think we got down a little bit. At halftime, the coaches were trying to pick us up, they told us ‘You guys aren’t doing good and you know it, but you can do this. You know are a good team, pick it up.’”
Head coach Scott Moseley the message was positive at halftime.
“Pick it up,” Moseley said. “We were being too timid, we need to be more aggressive. You have 40 minutes to keep your season going and play the soccer you know you can play.”
The Riders took eight of those minutes before putting together the equalizing score in the 48th minute.
Long, playing in a more central position after halftime, made a run up the right side before cutting the ball back to the left to Wenzl.
“I was dribbling and I got into the box and I didn’t have a good angle to shoot and I saw Delaney was making a great run, so I passed it to her and she made a really good move,” Long said. “I was like ‘She’s got this,’ so I moved out of the way because I knew she was going to make it. She wound up and I thought, ‘I got to get out of the way because this is going in.’”
Wenzl was worried that she had taken too many steps with the ball and the Mariners’ defense would soon collapse on her.
“That one I actually didn’t know how it was going to play out because I took a few too many touches toward the central [part of the field] and I thought it was one too many,” Wenzl said. “I kicked it as soon as I had the chance and it ended up going near post.”
With a dense fog settling in over the side of the field Port Angeles was defending, the Riders were able to keep Sehome contained — but the same wasn’t the case for the Mariners.
The fastest player on the field, Long, the Class 2A 300-meter hurdles champion, broke free and had just enough room to unleash the eventual game-winning goal in the 63rd minute, crossing up the Sehome defense and goalkeeper for a 2-1 advantage.
“All I know a lot of times [in the game] I would take the ball down and lose it right down [at the goal], so I knew I had to cut it back otherwise it would have been blown up again,” Long said.
Sehome threatened to tie it back up, but the Riders back line — Bella Money and Lucah Folden in the middle in particular — cleared ball after ball out of the line of fire.
“Bella Money was great in the second half, really selling out,” Moseley said.
Long said the team played strategically with the lead.
“After we scored the second goal we knew we had to pack it in more defensively,” Long said. “I got moved into the middle and we just brought more people back. It wasn’t really amazing, we were booting the ball out a lot to clear it. But it was what we needed to do. We were trying to possess the ball more.”
The Riders added a third score — maybe the prettiest play of the night — for insurance purposes in the 72nd minute when Bailee Larson raced down a loose ball, stopped and sent a pass back to Wenzl in the goal box.
“Bailee, with the switch to forward, she was able to track the ball down, cut and then serve a perfect pass across,” Moseley said. “That’s Bailee’s skill she was able to cut back, send the service and Delaney with the finish. Three great goals against a really quality team.”
Wenzl was overjoyed to put the capper on Larson’s great ball into the box.
“Yeah, that was a beautiful cross on her end,” Wenzl said. “Her whole run was amazing and I was glad I was able to finish it off strong.”
And a loud home crowd was more than willing to raucously celebrate the final moments with the squad.
“I couldn’t hear anything else,” Wenzl said of the crowd support late in the game. “I was trying to hear my teammates and I don’t think they could hear a thing I was saying.”
Now Port Angeles (16-2-1) will look to make history with the program’s first state quarterfinal victory this weekend against Ridgefield (16-4-0), the Southwest District 4 champion.