ONTARIO — On Oct. 30, 2018, the No. 2 ranked Ontario boys soccer team suffered a tough 2-1 upset loss to visiting Newport/Toledo, ending the Tigers’ season.
On Wednesday, the Tigers were able to pass that first hurdle with a strong 3-1 win over Gladstone in the first round of the state tournament.
The win was the Tigers’ (9-0-4) first state tournament win (excluding play-in games) since 2012 and their first home playoff win since 2011.
“It’s like the monkey is off of our back,” Ontario coach Jaime Gonzalez said. “The kids, we worked so hard all season. They really deserve it.”
Gonzalez said the key for the Tigers on Wednesday was taking control of the pace of the game.
“We were able to settle more into our game,” he said. “We left some opportunities out there, but we fought through it.”
Ontario senior Greg Rodriguez was on a tear in the first half, scoring twice (including one goal from distance) to put the Tigers ahead 2-0 at halftime. Rodriguez had to watch from the sidelines last season as he missed his entire junior year with a leg injury. He said he couldn’t explain how good it felt to be able to get the playoff win.
“It’s great,” Rodriguez said. “And being able to do it with the team is the best feeling.”
While he’s still the Tigers’ leading scorer, Rodriguez had been going through a rough stretch as he would routinely get double and triple-teamed by Greater Oregon League opponents who had done a good job scouting.
Rodriguez said he credits the play of the midfield for helping him get into a groove on Wednesday.
“I feel like I wouldn’t be able to have done it without this team,” Rodriguez said. “Having guys like [Erick Lopez], [Rogelio Mireles] and [Adrian Nunez] in the mid, they really help me get those goals.”
Gonzalez agreed that the tough final stretch of the regular season worked in Ontario’s favor as the Tigers needed other members of the offense to step up and making it necessary for Ontario to play as a team.
“We’re really playing team soccer now,” Gonzalez said. “We’re working out there the way we practice.”
Rodriguez said getting into that team soccer grove was easy for the Tigers, as they have all been playing soccer together for their whole lives. He said he’s been happy to see Julian Tellez grow as a varsity player, as the two play club soccer together in Boise.
“He really has what it takes,” Rodriguez said.
The Gladiators were able to show some life at the 77th minute, with the Ontario defense crashing hard to the left side of the goal as Kevin Orozco-Arreola scored on an open goal.
But the Tigers immediately responded. Adrian Nunez took a shot on goal that was blocked, but bounced right to Jaime Gonzalez Jr., who scored the easy tip in less than a minute after the Gladstone goal.
The Tigers will host Woodburn in the state quarterfinals on Saturday, the time has not been finalized yet.