A goal off a corner kick with about 3 minutes remaining in last Thursday's SWW 1A League Trico Division match lifted La Center to a 3-2 victory over Columbia High.
The win all but secured a second-straight Trico championship and automatic state tournament berth for the Wildcats, who improved to 7-1 in the standings. The loss--their second to La Center--dropped the Bruins to 3-2 and likely eliminated them from title contention.
"We played exactly the game we needed to play--with strength, lots of communication and a lot of possessions," Bruins Coach Amy Kasenga said. "And we outshot them, 21-11; we just couldn't get enough of them to go home."
Columbia made it 1-0 in the seventh minute of play on a shot by Anna Anderson, with her left foot, from the left of the goal. It would have been 2-0 a couple of minutes later if not for a kick save by La Center's sweeper with the goalie out of the net.
Instead, that close call seemed to settle the Wildcats, who countered in the 10th minute with a clean-up goal by Shay Cheeseman on a ball the CHS defense failed to clear.
"We had a defensive breakdown there in that we crowded the box, screened our goalkeeper and didn't get the ball out on the first touch," Kasenga said. "Cheeseman settled it and placed it beautifully through all the bodies."
The Bruins kept the pressure on the Wildcats, however, though their efforts went unrewarded.
La Center goalie Ashley Mate made a save on Naomi Halpern's breakaway in the 11th minute and, in the 23rd, Whitney Reynier couldn't put a cross from Ane Vilnes into an empty net from about 10 yards.
"That was frustrating," Kasenga said, "two games in a row we just weren't able to make the goals we know how to score."
Cheeseman had no such trouble finding the back of the net with just under 7 minutes remaining in the half.
After running down a long ball near the sideline in CHS's defensive zone, Cheeseman beat two defenders around the right edge, then goalkeeper Claire Stevenson for a 2-1 LC lead.
Early in the second half, Columbia had a series of good scoring opportunities that began in the 45th minute and ran through the 47th.
First, a rocket shot by Halpern ricocheted off the post, then the crossbar, and Anderson had her follow knocked away by La Center's alert keeper.
A minute later, Anderson narrowly missed scoring off a corner kick. Then, in the 47th minute, Halpern had a shot from 8 yards blocked by Mate, who had to go to her knees to make the save.
Columbia eventually evened the score at 2-all, however, when Halpern headed in a 25-yard cross from Shannon McNallan in the 55th minute.
"That was just textbook," Kasenga said of the tying goal. "Naomi said all she was the ball and she hit it perfectly."
It remained 2-2 until the 77th minute when La Center scored off the corner kick on a ball the CHS defense couldn't clear or take possession of inside the goal box.
"It's tough to lose that way when you know you've done just about everything you can to win the game," Kasenga said. "But I still think we'll make it to the district tournament; we'll just have to fight our way through it" to qualify for state.
In other action:
Columbia lost a non-league match at home to RockON (Onalaska/Napavine), 1-0, on Oct. 9.
The Bruins quickly ended their two-match losing streak, however, with a 6-0 shutout of Stevenson here last Saturday and a 4-0 win at Castle Rock on Monday.