Josh Kropf scored the go-ahead goal off Tanner Nauta's corner kick in the 74th minute of Tuesday's Tri-Valley Conference match

REVIEW/NEWS PHOTO: JIM BESEDA - Gladstone's Konnor Hathaway (right) has a half-step on Molalla's Logan Child as he drives the ball out of the Gladiators' end during Tuesday's Tri-Valley Conference boys' soccer match.Molalla's Josh Kropf said it was never a question of "if" the Indians would score in the second half against Gladstone, but "when."

The Indians got the bounce they were looking for in the 74th minute when Kropf ran onto a corner kick from Tanner Nauta and banged the ball inside the left post, lifting Molalla to a 2-1 Tri-Valley Conference boys' soccer road win Tuesday at Gladstone's Dick Baker Stadium.

Gavin Barrett scored Molalla's other goal in the 35th minute as the Indians (6-3-2, 5-1-1 Tri-Valley) rallied from a 1-0 deficit to complete a two-game sweep on their series with the Gladiators.

"That was one of our better performances of the year," Molalla coach Ryan Gates said. "We showed a lot of resiliency to push and get that last goal.

"It always great to win away from home. A tie on the road is good, but a win … that's icing on the cake."

The loss dropped the Gladiators (5-5-1, 4-2-1) into third place, a game behind second-place Molalla and a game-and-a-half behind league-leading Madras with three games remaining in the regular season.

"When we play Molalla, it's always a good game," Gladiators coach Ryan Hardwick said. "And I think that's what we saw again tonight -- two teams willing to battle and willing to go all out.

"It always disappointing to lose close games like this, but … our guys have a lot of heart, they have a lot of strength and character, and they don't give up. I wish that they would have picked up the intensity sooner -- before the goal, rather than after the goal."

Tied at 1-1, Molalla's Miguel Maldonado and Cesar Ortiz-Mendoza stepped up and helped dictate how much of the second half was played, dominating the run of play in the midfield as the Indians put consistent pressure on Gladstone goalkeeper Andrew Prom.

The Indians squandered a number of scoring opportunities, including a shot by Nauta from inside the 18-yard box that missed wide left in the 59th minute, a blast by Ortiz-Mendoza from 25 yards out that missed wide right in the 61st minutes, and a run by Kropf that ended with Prom charging out of the net and redirecting the ball out of danger in the 65th minute.

Turning point

Molalla's persistence finally paid off in with 6:52 to play when Nauta's corner kick from the right corner skipped from one side of the 6-yard box to the other, finding Kropf as he crashed in from the left side.

"It was all Tanner's work," Kropf said. "I just happened to be in the right spot."

Gates was thrilled to see the ball end up in the net.

"It took a lot of effort," Gates said. "Finally getting on it and getting it in the goal … it felt good, because I felt we deserved a goal with the way we were playing. That goal was big, and for it come off a corner kick was great."

From Hardwick's perspective on the Gladstone bench, it looked as if junior midfielder Konnor Hathaway was in position to make a play on the corner kick, but got pulled from behind as the ball came toward the goal mouth.

"Some calls go your way, and other calls don't," Hardwick said. "I think when we look at the video, we'll see that Konnor got pulled from behind. He had the inside position on the guy, and if you have that inside position and the ball is coming at your from across the goal, you don't fall backwards."

At the same time, there was no denying that Molalla had the better chances through most of the game, especially in the second half.

"Our defense is good," Hardwick said. "Our defense can handle the kind of pressure Molalla put on us tonight. I think where we were lacking and what we need to work on going forward is the transition from defense to offense.

"If we can fix that, and if we would have fixed that tonight, the chances would have been even, or we might have even had the better chances."

Gladstone took a 1-0 lead when Josiah Bitter scored off Hunter Phung's corner kick from the right corner, heading the ball for the middle of the 18-yard box past Molalla keeper Patrick Ehleringer and inside the left post in the 32nd minute.

Molalla answered the 35th minute when Maldonado drove to the ball to end line on the right wing before second a cross into the 18 for Gavin Barrett, whose shot caught Prom leaning the wrong way.

"We played as a team, and when we play as a team, we win games," said Kropf, the Indians' senior midfielder. "Gladstone put on a lot of pressure and played a really good game, but once we got our intensity going, there was nothing they could do."

Gladstone hits the road Tuesday for a 4 p.m. match against first-place Madras (8-0-2, 5-0-2), while Molalla returns home for a 4 p.m. match against Crook County (3-5-1, 2-4-1).

By Jim Beseda
Sports editor
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