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Lancers end Sunnyside's State title bid

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Sunnyside's Jesus Solis tries to maneuver around two Kennedy players in the first half of Saturday's game.

The edge had to go to Sunnyside in last Saturday's 3A State quarterfinal match-up against the Kennedy Lancers.

"We were there," Sunnyside Coach Juan Pineda said. "We had the physical fitness, the mental toughness, unity, discipline, motivation, tactics, any factor you can possibly line up for the team to win, we had it."

The only thing the Grizzlies didn't hold an advantage in is goals scored and that was the difference right there.

"When you get to this level there are no specific formulas for getting a goal," Pineda added. "At this level it is about who reads the right moment and embraces the opportunity when it's there. Our formula allowed our team a bunch of opportunities to score, unfortunately none of our players punched (it in) when they had to."

In the scorching heat Kennedy used two quick goals in the second half and then held off a furious comeback attempt by Sunnyside to advance to this Friday's semi-final match in Tacoma with a 2-1 win.

Both teams started the game battling for control. Kennedy was playing a long passing game to attempt to penetrate Sunnyside's defense with their forwards. The Grizzlies were able to shut down that strategy and the Lancers switched the game to the mid-field, an area where Sunnyside is very strong.

"After that the game started to become ours," Pineda said.

Sunnyside displayed dazzling technique as the Grizzlies created opportunity after another. Freshman Armando Ortiz almost gave Sunnyside its first goal of the game when he found himself one-on-one with Kennedy's keeper. Ortiz placed the ball just a bit high and it went over the goal.

At halftime Pineda told his team they were close, but they needed to work just a little bit harder.

"What a change," Pineda said. "Our boys came out really strong. Since the first second of the second half we got on them. We had the right timing, the accuracy for the touch and the intensity."

Sunnyside spent the first 10 minutes of the second half bombarding Kennedy's keeper with shots. He was the only one who kept the Lancers in the game at that point. Kennedy's Sean Miller made some truly amazing saves in the second half and almost single handily kept his team in the game.

It was during this bombardment that the unthinkable happened. In the 64th minute of play Kennedy's Christian Nichols sent a long ball past Sunnyside defender Luis Perez. Perez believed his brother, Sunnyside keeper Joaquin Perez, was coming to get the ball. Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, the Sunnyside keeper didn't think the ball was going to be chased down by Kennedy forward Dawit Kelete. Kelete was able to get a toe on the ball, which deflected it enough to change direction in which the Sunnyside keeper was heading and the ball rolled in for a score.

"That was a hard hit (for us), which came right when they were barely surviving," Pineda said.

Then, in the 72nd minute of play Kennedy scored again off a Vincent McKluskey goal. Sunnyside was down 2-0 with eight minutes to play.

In the finals minutes of play Sunnyside's Nick Steckler scored off of a corner kick.

Sunnyside doubled the Lancers' output with shots on goal, getting 26 compared to Kennedy's 13.

"No doubt we were the better team," Pineda added. "Kennedy's coach admitted that, but we don't win by being the better team, we win with goals.

"I am very happy with my boys. They were brave and played with a lot of heart. How can I not love my team. Before this season became a season of champions, it was a season of challenges. I want the boys to remember that. If they want to achieve something in life like they did in soccer, they have to embrace the challenges so they can harvest the fruit of their hard work and talents."

Sunnyside passed some bench marks this season. The Grizzlies won the Columbia Basin League title, and added District and Regional championships.

Sunnyside (16-4) will lose five key defensive starters to graduation but will bring back all offensive starters.

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