WEST RICHLAND - It had the makings of a championship game and it lived up to its billing.
The Sunnyside High School boys soccer team traveled to Hanford last night to face the Mid-Valley League champions for an automatic berth to State.
Sunnyside came out on top of a breathtaking 2-1 overtime game against the Falcons that gave the Grizzlies an automatic berth in next week's 3A State tournament. The Grizzlies will make their second consecutive appearance in the State tournament.
"It was a great game with capital letters," said Sunnyside Coach Juan Pineda.
What highlighted last night's encounter was the total team effort put forth by the Grizzlies in one of their finest displays of the season. But while last night was about the Grizzlies as a unit, one does have to tip their hat to Sunnyside keeper Johnny Hernandez.
Hernandez was unbelievable for Sunnyside, blocking two shots during the overtime shootout to give the Grizzlies the victory.
"Johnny came out big again," said Pineda.
Pineda said he felt Hernandez learned from his only shootout loss of the year against West Valley-Yakima, where the Rams picked apart Hernandez in the net.
"He learned from that," said Pineda. "Johnny has a lot more confidence now."
The game went to a shootout after both teams finished regulation play in a 1-1 tie. The two five-minute overtime periods went scoreless, leading to Hernandez's dramatic performance in the shootout to send the Grizzlies to State.
Pineda said a key part of the shootout was when Hernandez blocked Hanford's first shot.
"That does put the pressure on the next shooters," said Pineda.
Hanford then hit the crossbar on their second shot in the shootout. Hernandez then made a diving block in the Falcons' third attempt.
Sunnyside made all three of its shootout goals. Luis Galvan made the first goal, followed by Junior Garcia and then freshman Hugo Morales booted in the shot that sent Sunnyside to Saturday's Regional championship game and a berth to State.
The first half of regulation play went scoreless, but Sunnyside was able to dominate much of the play in the field.
The Grizzlies put together a solid run early in the second half when Mario de la Torre got Hanford keeper Drew Curry to come out of the box. He floated a shot over Curry's head to score at the 48th minute. Garcia picked up the assist on the goal.
"That was one of the most valuable goals of our season," said Pineda.
Hanford couldn't get anything going for a while. The Falcons finally took advantage of a throw-in and squeaked a ball past Hernandez and the Grizzly defense at the 70th minute.
The Grizzlies came into the game with a game plan to take away the deadly attack on the wings that Hanford is known for. Pineda said his team did a solid job of denying the Falcons the crossing plays that usually result in goals for them. Hanford looked a bit lost offensively, as the Falcons seemed not used to having to attack the middle to try and score.
Where the Falcons were undoubtedly strong last night was on defense. Hanford did a consistent job of keeping Garcia in check and contesting every ball.
"They did do a good job on defense," said Pineda. "I did feel they had some really dangerous moments."
Hanford's defense had a particularly notable stand late in the overtime session, stopping five consecutive shots on goal by the Grizzlies.
Sunnyside's defense also rose to the occasion, stopping 10 Hanford corner kicks in the game. Sunnyside had four corner kicks.
The Grizzlies outshot Hanford 13 to 12 on goal. Hernandez finished with six saves.
Pineda said what impressed him most about last night was how his group played as a team.
"We stuck to the game plan," said Pineda. "We were strong minded. We played with a lot of high intensity. We played united."
The Grizzlies now travel to Cheney High School on Saturday at 1 p.m. to play in the Regional championship game and for seeding into the State tournament. Cheney beat West Valley in overtime last night. West Valley and Hanford will play on Saturday for the third and final berth to State.
Pineda said he doesn't know much about Cheney, but is excited about the new challenge.
"We have to read the game right of way," said Pineda. "I need my leaders and my captains to help me and make adjustments early."