Sun sets on Apollos 6A state title hopes

A second-half penalty kick beats Sunset 1-0 in the state championship
by: Miles Vance SENIOR LEADER — Sunset senior forward Alicia Alarcon (right) races upfield while defended by Tualatin’s Lauren Helmreich during the Apollos’ 1-0 loss in Saturday’s Class 6A state championship game.

HILLSBORO - Twenty more minutes.

Twenty minutes of overtime and probably penalty kicks too.

That was what the Sunset girls soccer team wanted - and deserved - in its 1-0 loss to Tualatin on Saturday night in the Class 6A state championship game at Hillsboro Stadium.

The Metro League runner-up Apollos - playing in their first big-school state championship game since 1992 - put together a stellar game against the unbeaten Timberwolves, and lost only when they were called for a handball and gave up a penalty kick with 29 minutes, 22 seconds left in the game.

'Tualatin's a very good team, and they played very well,' said Sunset junior defender Claire Smith. 'It's just unfortunate it had to end this way.'

'They were good, and they played balls to feet, but I think we could have won this,' said sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Luty, who made six saves in the contest. 'They just got that lucky chance.'

'It was a well-played game,' added senior defender Kristen Jondahl.

'We all went out hard. We all wanted to get the win, but it just wasn't meant to be.'

Despite the loss, Sunset made 2011 a season to remember, putting together a 14-3-2 season record that included one unbeaten streak of seven games, and another of six (including a 2-0 victory over Metro champion Jesuit) that took the team right up to Saturday's state finale.

For a team that included just four seniors - only two of them starters - and featured four sophomores among its regulars, Sunset's accomplishments were almost unbelievable.

'I'm so proud of each and every one of my teammates,' said senior forward Alicia Alarcon. 'We worked so hard this season. Making it this far, we should just be extremely happy and proud of ourselves.'

'It was just our progression throughout the year, beating Jesuit, and just doing things we didn't think we could do and accomplishing a lot' that stood out, said senior defender Kristen Jondahl. 'We just started playing more together instead of playing for ourselves. We started playing for each other.'

That effort helped lift the Apollos into the finale after playoff wins against Century, Sheldon, Lakeridge and Westview. And though Tualatin held the upper hand in the title match - the Pacific Conference champ T-wolves (19-0-0) outshot Sunset 15-3 - its margin of victory was razor-thin.

While Tualatin wouldn't score until 11 minutes into the second half, the Wolves created several dangerous scoring chances before then. The first of those came with 22:40 remaining in the opening half when Mollie Freel made a run up the left side, broke past two Sunset defenders, then sent the ball on to Cassie Baldwin at the left post - but Luty came out of goal, deflected the ball away and preserved the 0-0 tie.

Baldwin was back on the attack again with 7:30 to go in the first half, breaking toward the goal from the right seam before Luty charged out and deflected Baldwin's shot away.

Sunset's best opportunity of the first 40 minutes came with just 2:05 to go before halftime when freshman Alexann Bibo sent the ball into the Tualatin penalty box from the left side and Jondahl made a sharp header that was stopped by Wolves keeper Celeste Cota-Wockenfuss. The ball then fell among a crowd of players tantalizingly close to the Tualatin goal, but Maddie Campbell cleared the ball away before Apollo junior Mary Grace Roselli could get there for the follow-up.

Tualatin kept the pressure on in the second half too, first when Anna-Marie Popma took a long through ball up the left seam, raced past the last Sunset defender and drove a hard shot just wide left of the Apollo goal seven minutes into the half.

But Tualatin's next serious challenge would not be turned away, and Popma - Tualatin's star senior forward and scoring leader - was right there in the middle of it. This time, Popma made a break up the left side and went to goal. Luty came out of goal again to challenge and deflected Popma's shot. But the ball fell back in front of Popma and her second kick went high - and right at the face of Sunset junior defender Ashley Rogers. Rogers lifted her hands to protect her face, was struck by the ball and whistled for a handball by the referee.

Popma then stepped to the penalty line and drove the ensuing kick into the right corner of the net got the game's lone score, and for the 100th goal of her career.

'You hate to lose it on a PK,' said Sunset coach Ben Durano. 'In a game like this, you're only going to get two or three chances and you've got to put them away.'

Sunset's last real chance to tie and force overtime came with 14:20 left to play when Roselli took the ball up the right side of the field and took a shot that Cota-Wockenfuss deflected out to the top of the penalty box. Alarcon then ran onto the free ball from 15 yards out, but her hard shot sailed wide left and the Wolves hung on to win 1-0.

'We played as hard as we could,' Alarcon said. 'I think that just giving them a game like that really made them open their eyes that we were here to play.'

'It was hard stepping up to fill our captains' shoes from last year, but that's what we wanted to do this year and I think we accomplished it,' Jondahl added. 'It just didn't come out tonight.'