Surging T-Birds and Abes battle it out

Lincoln sophomore Troy Allen gets some major air as Mt. Tahoma senior Marco Rodriguez looks on. Photo by Rocky Ross

When it comes to athletics, there is only so much a coaching staff can do to prepare a team to go out on the field and win the ball game. While the fundamentals of the sport and mental approach can be passed down to the player, that doesn’t always add up to wins on the field of play. There’s an aspect of pretty much every sport out there called “finishing,” and that’s what separates the winners from the rest of the pack.

Sometimes it takes years, if not decades, to see a certain athletic program evolve into a winner at a given school. It’s been a serious grind for several programs in Tacoma over the years.

Despite a revolving door of new student athletes and coaches, some teams just never seem to get off the ground for a heartbeat, let alone taking full-on flight. While some teams dream of state tournament runs, there’s an equal number out there that would feel like world beaters if they could somehow just make it into their respective district tournament.

The boys soccer programs at Lincoln and Mt. Tahoma High Schools are a good example of this sort of grind of the years.

While the Abes and T-Birds have been delivering quality players for years, their squads have regularly fallen short of any post-season aspirations. As a matter of fact, sometimes just grabbing a couple of victories in a season was about as good as it was going to get. Those were also the expectations of these teams. It didn’t look like they were quite there yet.

Mt. Tahoma sophomore goalkeeper Josiah Bowie had a busy night holding a hungry Lincoln offense to just a single goal. Bowie made some tremendous saves in the match. Photo by Rocky Ross

Well, things certainly seem to be changing on the soccer landscape here in the City of Destiny.

Not only have Mt. Tahoma and Lincoln fielded higher caliber teams this season, but it looks as though the building blocks are now in place to see these programs move up to a new level. Across town, the Stadium Tigers have shown what it takes to deliver winning teams, and the T-Birds and Abes have put the Tigers to the test in recent outings. This sort of upswing in competition is only going to make the 3A Pierce County League stronger, and should ultimately benefit whichever teams advance through the battlefields and into the post-season.

Tacoma teams often get stung when they enter the post-season, because the talent gap between the top couple of teams in their league and the rest of the field is often deep and wide. Because of this, many recent post-season entries from Tacoma have found themselves bounced out of the playoffs before their fans had barely warmed up their seats in the stands.

Following his late, game-tying penalty kick, Mt. Tahoma senior Raul Ramirez sprints back to the center of the field with the ball for a quick restart. Photo by Rocky Ross

Whether or not teams like Mt. Tahoma and Lincoln are state-caliber yet remains to be seen, but when the two teams met on the pitch at Lincoln Bowl on Monday, April 2, the game had the sort of intensity that one would expect from a do-or-die district tournament game. It looked like a fun game on paper, and the resulting contest delivered on all counts.

The Abes put one on the scoreboard just minutes after the first whistle and a steady attack on the Mt. Tahoma goal followed. After giving up just eight goals in their previous seven games, the T-Birds were in jeopardy of falling behind quickly under the Abes’ offensive onslaught. However, after a host of opportunities, the Abes were unable to find the back of the net in the first half, as Mt. Tahoma sophomore goalkeeper Josiah Bowie stepped up with some sensational, point-blank saves that would ultimately keep the T-Birds within striking distance in the waning moments of the match.

The first half also saw the Lincoln defense snuff-out each and every Mt. Tahoma offensive chance, with most not even getting within striking distance of Lincoln junior goalkeeper Gabriel Foster.

It was a different story in the second half, as Mt. Tahoma came out firing away after finally getting some penetration through the Lincoln defense. After three near- misses and a solid corner-kick opportunity, it was clear that Mt. Tahoma had made the proper adjustments at halftime. It felt like it was just a matter of time before the T-Bird offense broke through for a goal, but somehow the Lincoln defense either held their ground, or benefited from shots that were slightly off their mark.

photo by rocky ross Lincoln junior goalkeeper Gabriel Foster puts his body on the line to protect the Abes’ goal. Foster is another one of the rising stars in the Tacoma soccer community. Photo by Rocky Ross

As the second half ground along, the Lincoln offense began to heat up again and Bowie found himself putting in some serious work in the Mt. Tahoma goal box. Despite some great chances, Lincoln kept missing out on extending their lead by a matter of inches. With the Mt. Tahoma offense pressing to get an equalizing goal, the defense was a little thinner on the back end, but the bodies that were back there were able to block several shots.

With just over seven minutes remaining in the match, lightning struck for the T-Birds.

A hard foul took place on the edge of the goal box. After conferring with the side judge, the referee deemed it worthy of a penalty kick for Mt. Tahoma. Raul Ramirez lined up a shot and sent a blast into the upper-left portion of the net. Now with just minutes remaining in the match, Mt. Tahoma actually had a chance to win a game that Lincoln had owned for most of the night.

Mt. Tahoma had two excellent corner-kick opportunities late that barely missed their mark. Moments later, Lincoln countered with a long, free kick that sailed just inches over the crossbar. The game ended with both teams struggling to manufacture one last scoring run. The 1-1 tie wasn’t a high-scoring affair, but for those in attendance, it was a fun and fierce battle to watch.

These look like two very hungry teams with more talent than they may have had in decades.

Up next for Lincoln (2-2-2 3A Pierce County League, 2-3-3 overall) is a Tuesday, April 10, road match against a Wilson Rams (3-1-1, 4-2-1) squad that looks like it has started to find its groove. Mt. Tahoma (3-1-2, 5-1-2) will host Spanaway Lake (2-4-0, 2-5-0) on Tuesday, April 10. The Abes and T-Birds will have their rematch on Monday, April 30, at Mt. Tahoma Stadium.

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