6A girls soccer — NHS beaten by Tigard and Hillsboro to finish fourth in the Pacific Conference and fall short of an automatic playoff bid

Still stinging from its 6-1 defeat to Pacific Conference champion and No. 1-ranked Tigard two days earlier, Newberg had to recover quickly for a third-place showdown versus Hillsboro with an automatic bid to the 6A state playoffs on the line.

The Tigers, however, saw their harrowing week continue, as the Spartans jumped out to a 3-0 lead by halftime Oct. 24 at Loren Douglas SETH GORDON - Double-teamed -- Senior Kassie Grove battles for the ball during Newberg's 4-3 loss to Hillsboro on Oct. 24. With the defeat, the Tigers had to settle for fourth place in the always-tough Pacific Conference.

Hillsboro added a fourth goal early in the second half, which proved to be the game winner as Newberg closed the game in a frenzy, scoring twice in the final five minutes to pull within 4-3 before running out of time.

“In the end, I’m proud of how hard they fought the last 20 to 30 minutes of the game,” head coach Jon Halstead said. “That was ours to win if we would have played like that the whole game and I think they realize that.”

The first half of the home game versus Tigard Oct. 22 foreshadowed the opening 40 minutes Newberg would endure later in the week against Hillsboro, as the Tigers surrendered four goals before the break to the unbeaten visitors, while watching several shots hit the post, carom off the bar or sail just wide.

After the Spartans broke the scoreless tie in the 17th minute Oct. 24, the hosts immediately marched down the field to create a quality scoring chance of their own, but junior forward Megan Myers’ blast from about six yards out was rejected by the post.

Newberg continued to control possession even after gifting Hillsboro an easy goal on a miscommunication in its own penalty box in the 25th minute, but the Spartans were dangerous in getting behind the defense with well-executed through balls on the counterattack and made it 3-0 with just 1:14 remaining in the half.

Hillsboro made it 4-0 on a similar play just 6:24 into the second half and it took a while for the Tigers to regroup.

Sam Russo got Newberg on the board on a well-hit free kick with less than 18 minutes to play. The Tigers continued to put pressure on the visitors, but didn’t break through again until Myers deftly set up Natalie Peterson for close-range goal with 4:19 to play.

Brittaney Long then gave Newberg a flicker of hope, crushing a poor clearance from the Spartans on the roll from about 30 yards out and then watching it tuck just under the bar at the last possible moment to make it 4-3.

The Tigers worked to create two more chances, but on neither occasion could a player get on the end of a dangerous pass into the box.

“We need breaks to fall for us this time of year and they haven’t for us so far,” Halstead said. “They score one and we come right down and hit the post. If that goes in, it’s a different ball game. I think we’re lacking a little confidence right now, which is disappointing, but a fourth-place finish in our league isn’t bad.”

With the top-3 finishers — Tigard (No.1), Tualatin (No. 3) and Hillsboro (No. 9) — all ranking in the top-10 of the OSAA power rankings, the Pacific Conference may indeed have been the strongest in the state this year. Add in No. 15 Newberg and No. 19 Glencoe, and the league has a legitimate argument.

The Tigers (7-5-1 overall, 4-3 league) finished with seven wins for the first time since Halstead’s first season as coach six years ago and the strong performance still paid off, as they were the highest ranked team to participate in one of 11 play-in games.

Newberg was a heavy favorite when it hosted North Salem, the lowest ranked team in 6A, on Tuesday (results unavailable at press time) and, thanks to their ranking, will be in line to host a first-round playoff game Saturday if they make the final 32-team field.

“It’s been a great season,” Halstead said. “These girls worked their butts off this summer and we put together a great run. At 7-5-1, that’s a season they can be proud of.”

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