Unbeaten Stadium rolls into the ‘Elite Eight’

Junior Alexis Lamb skies for the header. Photo by Rocky Ross

When it comes to being a superstitious type, the world of athletics is probably populated with the lion’s share of the bunch. This writer has had a streak of superstition running through his veins since I was a young lad here in Grit City. I’m sure it’s been passed along to me through my sports-loving father, but after all these decades I’ll take full responsibility for it now. This proud owner of not one, but two, black cats, was a bit mortified about heading down to Stadium Bowl on Tuesday, Nov. 7. It wasn’t the thought that the undefeated Stadium Tigers girls’ soccer team may wind up on the wrong end of the scoreboard in their 3A state tournament opening round match, that had me looking for a sudden change of plans.

Stadium senior Kiara Rivera fights for the ball. Photo by Rocky Ross

No, it was the fact that I have yet to witness a state tournament soccer victory, by one of our city teams, in my four years of covering sports here in the City of Destiny. As a matter of fact, the last state tournament game I bore witness to was a last-second upset of another undefeated Stadium team just this past spring in their own 3A state tournament opener.

Junior Jamisyn Hughes fends off a Roughrider. Photo by Rocky Ross

I’ve witnessed heartbreakers, upsets and penalty-kick shootouts that all went the wrong way for the student athletes of Grit City. It felt like a red, flashing light began going off in the back of my head, the moment I took a look at my plans for the night. This superstition business is really for the birds.

Juniors Monique Angel (13) and Makenzie Burks (11) celebrate Burks’ second goal. Photo by Rocky Ross

Now, with all that being said, I’m happy to announce that this little curse has finally been lifted. There was no sweeping comeback falling from the heavens for the visiting Roosevelt Roughriders, as a sizeable crowd at historic Stadium Bowl were witness to a 2-1 victory. The usual nightmare climb up the Stadium steps was nullified by the laughs and happy chatter of Tiger fans as they chewed up, what often feels like, the hundreds of steps to the street above.

Stadium’s opponents made it to this game as the champions of Seattle’s Metro Valley League. While it’s often hard to gauge the strength of our own local leagues in many sports, it was even more difficult getting a handle on just how good Roosevelt was going to be. Entering the game with a respectable 11-6-1 record, the Roughriders ran roughshod through their own division with a perfect 8-0-0 mark. However, they dropped five games to their cousins in the Metro Mountain League. Of course, when one gets to the round of 16 teams, under the lights on a chilly night, the ball has a funny way of bouncing and the games become surprisingly equal.

From the opening whistle, the Tigers began applying pressure on Roosevelt, and it was the Roughriders that owned the opening kick. After a steal in the Roosevelt end, Stadium would inch the ball further down the field. A couple of throw-ins later and Stadium’s game changer, Makenzie Burks, gathered in a toss from out of bounds, turned toward the middle of the field and sent in a left-footed looper that was just out of the reach of Roosevelt’s keeper. When the ball hit the back of the net, the scoreboard had just entered into the second minute of the contest.

“Starting off we wanted to make sure we took the game to Roosevelt,” said Stadium head coach Adam Becker, who has returned to the bench for the Tigers after a one-year hiatus. “Hence putting them on their heels early. We knew if we could pressure them into mistakes and get an early chance it would pay off. It’s difficult to keep up for the full 80 minutes, but effective if we score first.”

Despite consistent pressure for the majority of the half, Stadium was unable to notch another goal for 30 minutes. On their heels and with their backs against the wall, Roosevelt made several defensive stands that snuffed out good looks by the Tigers. That all changed when Burks summoned up a little more magic. With defenders on either side of her, Burks was able to take a ball that began at the top of the box and angled it toward the left. With defenders on either side of her, Burks got a toe on the ball, knocking the shot low and toward the inside of the right post. Roosevelt’s goalkeeper had no chance to stop it. The Tigers took their 2-0 lead into the locker rooms at halftime.

The second half began much as the first. Stadium continued to dominate possession and Roosevelt was finding it nearly impossible to get the ball past midfield. However, by the midpoint of the second half, it appeared as though the Tigers were letting up a bit. Several passes were off-target, or struck with less power, turning the ball over to the Roughriders. With 16 minutes remaining in regulation, Roosevelt turned a loose ball into a goal and it snapped the Tigers back into action.

“As the second half went on we started to lose a little of the play,” said Becker. “Roosevelt was able to disrupt our play maybe due to some heavy legs. When pressing like we did, the girls can get fatigued, resulting in simple and small mistakes. Luckily we were able to stick together, defend as a team and kill the game off.”

Now the Tigers will be rewarded with yet another home game in the state tournament. This time around the stakes are even higher, and the competition is going to get rougher. The Prairie Falcons (12-5-1) will pay a visit to Stadium Bowl on Friday, Nov. 10 for a 7 p.m. first kick with the Tigers. The champions of the Greater St. Helens League knocked off Marysville-Getchell by a score of 2-1 on Wednesday, Nov. 8. The Falcons are a battle-tested squad that have faced-off against many of the best 4A teams in the Vancouver area. Should the Tigers advance to the semifinals, the competition is going to get fierce with powerhouses Seattle Prep or Bellevue waiting in the wings.

Whoever it is, the Tigers feel ready for the challenge.

“Winning the league and hosting two home games for state is huge,” said Becker. “We drew the most difficult road to state, with Seattle Prep and Bellevue all in our side of the bracket. All could be potential opponents. No matter who we draw it’s going to really put us to the test. One thing that helped tonight is we stuck to the game plan and only focused on ourselves. If we play our game, our style, and the way we have all season we should be able to compete with any opponent.”

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