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Top-seeded Phoenix falls in semifinals

Phoenix gave up six goals in the entirety of its boys soccer season.

The last one, in the Class 4A state semifinals, was the most painful.

North Marion’s Andres Agabo gathered the ball with just under 15 minutes to play, created enough space for a shot, then hit a powerful, 18-yard strike with his left, and dominant, foot for the goal that gave the Huskies a 1-0 victory Tuesday at South Medford High School.

The game was played there because it has lights, and in the end, it was the lights-out shot by Agabo that decided it, giving the top-seeded Pirates their only loss in a 14-1-1 season.

North Marion, the No. 13 seed, will play Woodburn for the state championship on Saturday. Woodburn defeated Madras, 6-0, in the other semifinal.

“That kid that hit that shot, that was a backbreaker,” said Phoenix coach Dennis Flenner. “We really couldn’t get back. We should have been able to do something.”

The Pirates hadn’t allowed a goal in their four previous games, including two playoff shutouts following an undefeated league run that netted their third straight Skyline Conference crown.

Phoenix was seeking a bigger prize, its first state championship. The Pirates have been to the finals twice, in 2011 and 1995.

“We’re real proud of our legacy that we’ve had at Phoenix,” said Flenner.

He noted the season schedule included three nonconference teams that made the state playoffs.

“We were the best prepared,” he said, “but unfortunately, 1-0 games are what happen in soccer, and it went against us.”

North Marion (10-4-3) didn’t have the best record of the remaining teams, but it had won three straight and seven of eight entering the contest.

The Huskies flashed plenty of skill that showed they belonged.

“I’ve got to say,” said Pirates senior goalkeeper Moises Rivera, “I think they’re the best team we’ve played. They’re really good. They have some individuals that really knew what they were doing.”

Rivera, pressed into more action than he’s had all season, made a couple outstanding saves among the four he was credited with and kept the Pirates in the contest.

Defense was the name of the game throughout.

“It looks like we were fighting in the midfield,” said North Marion coach Rafael Pelaez.

Most of the first-half activity was at Phoenix’s end of the field. Only three of the Pirates’ 11 shots came in the first 40 minutes.

The Huskies were in their fourth straight road game, and Phoenix employed a bit of rope-a-dope, allowing North Marion to dictate play over all but the final 25 to 30 yards of the pitch.

“We thought they’d burn out,” said Flenner.

Rivera took their best shots.

“He did a fantastic job,” said Flenner. “They were on target and Moises really had to work hard. He did quite well and kept us in it.”

In the second half, said, Flenner, the Pirates planned to “open up our cannons and take of business.

Part of the halftime talk, said Rivera, was devoted to the notion of staying between the Huskies and the goal. That didn’t happen with 14:48 to play, when Agabo collected the ball on the left wing with a couple defenders near him.

One came at him, said the senior midfielder, and “I acted like I was going to shoot. I opened up to the space and just shot it and made it curve, and when I saw it go in, I got really excited.”

So did his teammates, who buried him in a dogpile at midfield.

It was a counterattack, said Flenner, with some of the Pirates breaking upfield when Agabo got control.

“I don’t think we expected him to have that kind of a left-footed shot, and he did,” said Flenner.

It went into the goal high and to the right; Rivera didn’t have a chance to make a stop, it was so precise.

Phoenix created excitement a couple times in the remaining minutes, but couldn’t convert when it got close.

“They have a great team,” said Pelaez. “I love the way they play, fast, passing on one touch. It was a close game and we got one lucky shot. It was a good shot, but they had their chances, too.”

In addition to having the same number of shots, each team produced five corner kicks.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@rosebudmedia.com

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