Girls soccer: Tualatin will meet Sunset Saturday in the state championship tilt
by: DAN BROOD WE DID IT — Tualatin’s (from left), Megan Freel, Megan Landmark, Mollie Freel and Lauren Helmreich celebrate following the team’s 1-0 semifinal victory.

TUALATIN - It's said that timing is everything.

There's also something to be said about being in the right place at the right time.

And, of course, practice makes perfect.

Well, the Tualatin High School girls soccer team has been practicing hard, the Timberwolves' timing was about as perfect as could be and senior Cassie Baldwin was definitely in the right place at the right time.

The Timberwolves, with Baldwin scoring a clutch goal with only one second left in the first half, scored a 1-0 win over South Salem in a hard-fought Class 6A state playoff semifinal match played Tuesday under foggy conditions at Tualatin High School.

'This means a lot to us. We've worked so hard for this,' said Baldwin, who scored the game's only goal on a buzzer-beating follow-up shot. 'This has been our goal all year, and it's good to be there.'

'I'm so proud of our team,' said Tualatin sophomore Jill Farley, who set up Baldwin's goal with a thunderous free kick that smacked off the crossbar of the South Salem goal. 'We've worked our butts off all season for this.'

South Salem, the Central Valley Conference champion, finished its season with a final overall record of 15-3.

Tualatin, the Pacific Conference champion, improved to 18-0 on the season with the win. The Timberwolves also advance to face Sunset Saturday in the Class 6A state championship, game, which is set to start at 6 p.m. at Hillsboro Stadium.

'This is so special,' Tualatin senior forward Anna-Marie Popma said. 'We're finally to the finals, and it's in my senior year. What a way to go out.'

'We're so excited about this,' Tualatin junior defender Makena Carkner said. 'We're definitely looking forward to it.'

Sunset, the No. 2 team out of the Metro League, brings a 14-2-2 overall record to the championship game. The Apollos beat Westview 1-0 in Tuesday's other semifinal match

Meanwhile, Tualatin will be playing in the state championship match for the first time since 2006, when the Wolves beat Oregon City 3-0 for the title.

'If we play tough, smart and hard, things should all fall into place,' Tualatin coach Rossano Rocha said.

'We're definitely excited for the finals,' Baldwin said. 'We're going to come out and play as hard as we can.'

'We just need to focus on ourselves and have fun,' Popma said.

Tualatin certainly seemed to be focused, and the Wolves also had fun in Tuesday's semifinal match, but getting the victory wasn't easy against a determined, physical South Salem squad.

'It was definitely very intense and physical,' Baldwin said. 'We knew we had to work as hard as we could.'

The Tualatin defense, anchored by Carkner, junior Mollie Freel, junior Hana Dempsey, sophomore Lauren Helmreich and sophomore Megan Landmark, held the Saxons to just one shot on goal in the first half.

Tualatin got shots on goal from Farley, Popma and senior Megan Freel in the first 33 minutes of the first half, but the Wolves weren't able to capitalize on those opportunities.

As the first half entered its final minute, it appeared that the teams would go to the break locked in a scoreless tie.

Then it happened.

With less than 30 seconds left in the half, South Salem was whistled for a foul, giving Tualatin a free kick that Farley lined up from 40 yards out. Taking her time, Farley set up the ball and, with about 8 seconds left, she rifled a line drive shot toward the South Salem goal.

The ball sailed over the reach of Saxon goalie Katie Reeder, but it thudded hard off the crossbar.

But, following the shot in, Baldwin, in the right place at the right time, was able to deflect the rebound with her stomach, knocking the ball into the left side of the South Salem goal.

'I was so shocked,' Farley said. 'I hit the crossbar a lot, so that didn't surprise me. Cassie did a great job following it in. I knew she could do it.'

'We've been practicing for me to follow in on shots like that,' Baldwin said. 'I saw the ball coming at me and I hit it with all I could. I hit it off my stomach. I had to try and angle it a bit. I've never done that before, but it worked.'

After the ball went into the goal, Baldwin, and everyone else looked up at the scoreboard clock, which showed that there was just one second remaining in the first half.

'I was in shock,' Baldwin said.

'That was incredible,' Carkner said. 'It was crazy.'

'It was incredible,' Popma said. 'I was jumping up and down.'

'Cassie has just stepped up her game tremendously,' Rocha said. 'She was in the right place at the right time.'

Tualatin's momentum carried over to the second half, as the Wolves got shots on goal from Farley, Dempsey and Baldwin in the first six minutes of the half.

But, the rest of the second half, Tualatin seemed focused on not letting South Salem get an equalizing goal.

The Saxons did have some opportunities. With 24:33 left to play, South Salem senior Michela Turner had a free kick attempt from 20 yards out blocked by Helmreich. With 14:08 remaining, a shot on goal by Saxon senior Katie Wasser from 22 yards out was saved by Tualatin senior keeper Celeste Cota-Wockenfuss.

Finally, with just 2:41 left to play, South Salem had a corner kick opportunity from the right side, but Mollie Freel kicked the ball away from in front of the Timberwolf goal.

Soon after, the Wolves were celebrating their semifinal victory.

'It was teamwork and communication,' Carkner said. 'We worked so hard all year for this. We deserve it.'

The Tualatin defense, getting its 16th shutout on the year, seemed to play a key role in the victory.

'We were solid on defense,' Carkner said.

'We had a game plan,' Rocha said. 'We refused service to No. 6 (South Salem senior Whitney Pitalo). We didn't want to let her get the ball.'

Helmreich and Landmark were the main players marking Pitalo.

'They did a fantastic job,' Rocha said.

Tualatin will have to play in Saturday's championship match without Farley, who will be playing with her regional team in a soccer tournament in Florida over the weekend.

'I know they'll do great,' Farley said of her Tualatin teammates. 'I'm very proud of everyone.'

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