PORT ANGELES, Wash. — A Freddy Rodriguez goal put the Walla Walla Community College men’s soccer team ahead in the 31st minute, and Warrior goalie Jorge Llerenas made that lead stand to the end with nine saves for a 1-0 victory here at Peninsula in a first-round matchup of the Northwest Athletic Conference championship tournament on Wednesday.
The win lifted Walla Walla (12-5-0 record) to a quarterfinal at Portland CC in Hillsboro, Ore., on Saturday. The Panthers (10-1-2) won the South Region’s regular season title, and with it, a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
“I am extremely happy for the boys,” Warriors coach Ben Rotert said. “Playing at Peninsula is always tough, and they were a good side.”
The playoff ended with Peninsula having outshot Walla Walla, 14-3, but the Warrior defense posted its sixth shutout of the season — only the second by Llerenas, who split goalkeeping duties this year with freshman Alex Grimaldo.
At Peninsula, Llerenas had to make three saves in the first half against a pesky Pirate attack that had never been held scoreless this season.
“The match started with a ton of energy as both teams were excited to play,” Rotert said. “Peninsula had the better chances in the first 15-20 minutes. They were direct into their forward feet, and they were very good at spinning it and going towards goal. It caused us some trouble in the first half.”
However, the Pirates would never get anything by Walla Walla’s defense.
Meanwhile, the Warrior attack tested Peninsula goalie Darius Ochoa with three long-distance shots early before a break through late in the first half.
A determined Victor Sanchez, with the ball at his feet from about 30 yards out, drove down the left side along with several Peninsula defenders before kicking a serve into the box. Ochoa mishandled it, and Rodriquez took advantage.
“Attacking wise, we thought we could get at their outside backs on the dribble,” Rotert said. “Victor did that perfectly and got the ball in for Freddy for the goal. (I’m) very proud of the boys.”
Walla Walla had a chance to double its lead shortly before intermission as Sergio Avalos landed a free kick 10 yards out, but the Warriors failed to capitalize.
The Warriors engineered two more opportunities later on, including another Avalos free kick as well as a McLoughlin High School alumn combination featuring sophomores Juan Martinez and Cristian Torres, but Ochoa kept it a 1-0 game.
Peninsula came back for the second half insistent on getting an equalizer, outshooting Walla Walla 8-0, but the Warriors held on to the end. Llerenas made six more saves to preserve his lead.
“We made some good adjustments in the second half to limit their forwards getting the ball,” Rotert said. “We had a great game plan, and we were able to execute very well,” Rotert said. “We knew we would have to defend well to give us a chance, and we did just that. We were very sharp defensively and though we held our shape very very well.”