Cats fight for top spot

MOUNT VERNON—Games can be considered “must wins” for many reasons. The Oak Harbor girls soccer team didn’t need a win over Mount Vernon to guarantee themselves a playoff berth, but instead needed to rebuild their confidence with only two regular season games remaining.

They received that much-needed win in a thrilling 2-1 defeat of the Bulldogs Thursday night.

“It’s crucial for their confidence going into the district playoffs,” head coach Gretchen Hanson said.

After cruising through most of the season without any problems, Oak Harbor stumbled in their previous two games. They picked up their first two losses of the year to Lake Stevens and Cascade, dropping a half game out of first place in the process.

It appeared their struggles may carry over into a third game on Thursday.

After applying constant pressure to the Mount Vernon defense, Oak Harbor was simply unable to put anything in the net. The Cats out-shot the Bulldogs 13-1 in the first half, but that one shot proved crucial. Receiving a penalty kick from 25-yards out, Mount Vernon’s Siri Campbell nailed an untouchable ball past goalkeeper Devon Shulock into the right upper-v for a 1-0 lead in the 31st minute.

“Sometimes it’s just a great shot and you can’t do anything about it,” Hanson said.

Trailing at halftime, the Wildcats began to feel a sense of urgency.

“We needed to come out and strong and just get our team up,” senior forward Gretyl Pruss said.

Pruss did exactly that 19 seconds into the second half. Weaving through defenders down the left sideline, Pruss found senior forward Tina Nicolas open in front of the goal. Nicolas took the centered pass and drilled the ball into the net, tying the game 1-1.

“We got a good couple of variations with the ball up the sideline...and we put the ball in snappy,” Pruss said.

With a possible tie looming over their heads, the Cats responded with unofficially two minutes remaining in the game.

While senior forward Kari Goebel was applying pressure to the Mount Vernon defense, Pruss stepped in front of a dropped pass deep in Bulldog territory. She stole the ball and calmly placed it to the left of goalkeeper Megan Hughes for the game-winning score.

“In the end the important thing is the two points and they pulled it out,” Hanson said.

Cascade 3, Oak Harbor 0

Returning to the field for the first time since suffering their only defeat in 13 contests, the Oak Harbor girls soccer team stumbled for a second straight game, losing 3-0 to Cascade Tuesday night.

Prior to their 2-1 loss at Lake Stevens on Oct. 16 and this week’s home loss to Cascade, the Wildcats had only given up three goals in 12 games and tied a school record with 10 shutouts.

They nearly tripled the amount of goals allowed for the season in their two losses.

“It hurts,” head coach Gretchen Hanson said afterwards. “They now realize they’re not invincible.”

The way Tuesday’s game started out, it appeared the Wildcats would quickly get back to their winning ways, as they attacked early an often. They got off the first four shots of the game and took seven more attempts than the Bruins in the first half. Oak Harbor eventually out-shot Cascade 21-9 for the game.

“We had more shots on goal, but they just didn’t go in the net,” Hanson said.

Cascade found success on their first shot attempt of the night. Forward Jessica Hughes floated a perfect lead pass from the center of the field to Kaily Thornlund running down the right sideline. With one touch Thornlund broke past the Wildcat defense and booted a shot into the right corner of the net.

Despite keeping the pressure on and getting five shot attempts in the final two minutes of the first half, Oak Harbor was unable to tie the game before the break.

The Cats kept up their pressure up to start the second half, but received a tough blow in the 63rd minute. Hughes, who already had a key assist, broke free in front of the Oak Harbor net on a free kick by Soley Griesbach from 40-yards out. One-on-one with junior goalkeeper Sheena Paddock, Hughes drilled the ball in the back of the net.

“We allowed too much space on a 42-yard kick,” Hanson said. “We had our line pushed so far back. They should have been pushed up to hold the line.”

The Bruins tacked on one more insurance goal in the 72nd minute after Griesbach nailed a 30-yard penalty kick untouched over the head of Paddock.

With the goal, Cascade became the first opponent to score three or more goals against Oak Harbor in 2003.

Now 11-2-2, the Wildcats sit one-half game behind Cascade (11-1-2) for the top spot in the WesCo North. Oak Harbor takes on fourth-place Monroe Tuesday, Oct. 28 at home in their final regular season game. The Bruins have to travel to third-place Snohomish (10-3-0) Tuesday and face cellar dweller Arlington (2-9-2) Thursday for their final game.

“Anything can happen in those games,” Hanson said.

If the Cats win and Cascade loses at least one of their final two games, there could be a tie for first place, which gives a major advantage to making the state tournament.

Regardless, Oak Harbor has already solidified a spot in the district tournament which starts Tuesday, Nov. 4 at Mount Vernon High School.

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