Liberty boys soccer pounds Milwaukie, blanks St. Helens

Eric Avalos and Enrique Baez are living the dream right now.

Not only are the two Liberty soccer players best friends, but they are getting to spend their senior season as striking partners at the top of the attack for a team aiming toward another state playoff run.

The forwards showed how dangerous they could be last Thursday, keying a 9-1 blitzing of Milwaukie in which Liberty picked up its first Northwest Oregon Conference win of 2013. Coupled with a 2-0 victory at St. Helens on Tuesday, the Falcons improved to 4-6 overall and 2-1 in league play heading into a Thursday match against two-time reigning conference champion Putnam.

“This is kind of what we needed, is a bit of a confidence builder,” Liberty coach Chris Sletten said last Thursday. “This is a very talented team. It’s just a matter of us putting it together on the right days. This is a good sign though.”

That talent starts with Avalos, a senior and two-time NWOC first team pick who helped the Falcons reach the Class 5A state quarterfinals in 2012. The forward demonstrated his playmaking abilities in the first half against the Mustangs — recording four assists — and picked up a goal early in the second courtesy an assist from Baez.

Of course, Baez was not too shabby either. In addition to that assist to his friend, he showed a deftness with the ball in scoring the team’s third and fourth goals, putting Liberty up 4-1 midway through the first half to create some breathing room.

Gustavo Nolazco and Noe Gomez had scored early in the first half on Avalos assists, but Milwaukie cut the deficit to one goal on what Sletten described as a “mental mistake in the back” for Liberty.

Ezequiel Escobedo added a score in each half for the Falcons, and Marquis Richardson and Kevin Rivas tacked on a goal apiece in the rout.

“Enrique had a great game tonight,” Sletten noted. “He hasn’t been playing as well as I had hoped, and tonight it was kind of a breakout performance for him.”

Baez acknowledged that he was not playing up to his capability earlier in the season.

But instead of hanging his head, he has kept working, as evidenced by his performance last Thursday.

“Hard work pays off, and practicing every day makes players better,” he said.

As for Baez’ friendship with Avalos, the two have known each other since grade school, they said.

They live in the same neighborhood, Avalos noted, while Baez recalled meeting Avalos for the first time in an informal schoolboy race. Their chemistry on the field has been developed over many years.

“It’s me and him, you know,” Avalos said. “We used to play street soccer all the time. We don’t play on the same club team, but for us to join up on high school soccer is a lot of fun for us. We understand each other really well on the field.”

Their production in the late stages of the season could prove pivotal for the Falcons, for whom each conference match is crucial. After taking on six Class 6A squads — and losing to five of them — in nonconference play, the team is trying to climb into playoff position. In Class 5A, the top 24 teams in the OSAA power rankings at the end of the regular season advance to postseason play.

Results from the Putnam match were not available at press deadline, but Liberty continues its playoff quest next Tuesday at home against Sherwood, followed by a road match at Sandy on Thursday.

“There’s definitely potential here to do another playoff run,” Avalos said.

Perhaps with he and Baez leading the way.

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