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West Linn girls win play-in game

by: MATTHEW SHERMAN West Linn’s Alexy DaHarb battles with Aloha’s Linda Nguyen for a loose ball in Tuesday’s 3-1 victory. DaHarb assisted on the Lions’ first goal of the game.

The West Linn girls soccer team got off to a fast start on a frigid evening in its play-in game against Aloha on Tuesday. The Lions put together a stellar effort defensively and capitalized on their scoring opportunities en route to a 3-1 win that propelled them into the state tournament and set up a road trip to Thurston this Saturday.

West Linn scored three minutes into the game, taking control early on and limited Aloha's chances, keeping the Warriors off the board until the final 90 seconds.

With their season on the line the Lions went on the attack from the opening whistle.

Three minutes into the game West Linn earned a corner kick which was taken by Alexy DaHarb.

DaHarb sent the ball into the box where defender Mackenzie Danies put a head on it and the Aloha defense couldn't deflect it away from the net.

"That goal set the tone for us. I think we showed in the first five minutes that we could dominate and we just had to capitalize," coach Holly Baird said.

Minutes later West Linn earned another cornerkick when Nicole Campbell's shot on a nice cross from Madison Leek was blocked out of bounds.

The ensuing kick wasn't cleared by Aloha and West Linn had multiple chances to put the ball in from close range but couldn't capitalize.

The Lions' front line worked well in tandem all night. Leek was routinely able to get behind the Aloha defense to either set herself up for a shot or send in crosses from the baseline.

Aloha had its share of possession in the game but the West Linn defense didn't give up many good looks at the net.

"I thought the defense was phenomenal. They made little errors but were able to fix them on the field by themselves. It's a smart defense and I have 100 percent confidence in them and our goalie," Baird said.

The Warriors' best chance in the first half was on a shot from the top of the box by Linda Nguyen that sailed over the crossbar.

A few minutes after Leek narrowly missed the target after beating the last Aloha defender down the field, she made another long run, getting to the baseline before laying a pass to Campbell.

Campbell one-timed a shot into the open net with eight minutes to play in the half and extended West Linn's lead.

The Lions put the pressure on in the final minutes of the half with both Paige Myers and Mary Richardson getting good looks on goal.

West Linn showed that it wasn't satisfied with a two-goal lead at the break. Just 15 seconds into the second half DaHarb made a run through the Aloha defense and sent a shot that missed just wide, putting the Warriors back on their heels again.

"We've been working on keeping the ball on the ground and going wide. We knew if we played to the middle of the field it would be playing to their strengths but if we stretched it out wide it would play to our strengths," Baird said.

Midway through the half, Aloha had a chance to cut the lead in half when Mary Pierce's shot was barely saved by West Linn goalie Gabby Estey. The Lions all but put the game away with 16 minutes to play.

Once again Leek was able to beat the last Aloha defender with her speed and this time her chip shot found the net, making it 3-0.

Leek would later hit the post on a similar play as she proved to be a difficult mark for the Warriors.

Aloha continued to battle. Pierce got off another strong shot that was saved by Estey and then with 1:13 remaining, the Warriors broke up the shut-out. Cassie Marusa tipped a ball to Pierce who put it in the goal from close range.

With the win the Lions will take on Thurston, a team ranked No. 6 by the OSAA this Saturday.

"It gives you momentum to go into the playoffs with a win. The girls are excited because they feel like they've really earned their spot," Baird said.