YAKIMA - A constant strategy during the Sunnyside Grizzly boys soccer team's nine-game winning streak has been scoring first, preferably within the first few minutes of the match.
Host West Valley used the same ploy against the Grizzlies this past Saturday in a 4-2 win over Sunnyside.
The loser-out contest was both the District/Regional final, as well as the first round of State tourney play. The Rams advanced to the State 3A quarterfinals with the win.
Saturday's match seemed to turn on a pair of plays in the first few minutes. In just the third minute of play, Sunnyside had a wide open shot attempt from only five yards outside the West Valley goal but misfired wide.
"We missed an opportunity and West Valley picked up steam," said Grizzly Coach Juan Pineda. "They started taking control from that moment on."
The result was a West Valley goal in the 10th minute. The score resulted from a Ram attack after Sunnyside had cleared a West Valley corner kick.
From that point on the battle stayed primarily at midfield, as West Valley clung to its 1-0 lead at the half.
Twice in the first 15 minutes of the second half Sunnyside came up empty on chances to tie the match. The first came in the 45th minute and the second opportunity was in the 54th minute.
The Rams broke through for goals in the 64th and 66th minutes to go up 3-0, with less than 15 minutes to play .
That's when Sunnyside finally found a spark, as Brian Galvan drilled a free kick into the back of the West Valley net to make it a 3-1 match in the 68th minute.
In desperation to close the gap further, Sunnyside had to pull up players from defense to add more offensive punch.
That left some openings in the defense and West Valley took advantage with a goal in the 72nd minute to go up 4-1.
Galvan scored again for Sunnyside in the 74th minute when he converted a penalty kick attempt.
"It took us too long to take the game at full throttle with a full aggressive attitude," Pineda said of the late Sunnyside surge. "We were not fighting for the ball, waiting too much." The coach added, "I think we underestimated West Valley."
Sunnyside keeper Joaquin Perez recorded nine saves to keep the Grizzlies within shouting distance. West Valley outshot Sunnyside 14 to 12.
Sunnyside finished the season at 12-7, defeating two Spokane schools during its playoff run.
Pineda knows there will still be some disappointed fans, given the Grizzlies' past history of District and Regional titles.
"I know a lot of people are disappointed, but the kids learned a lesson that from the first minute they have to put in their best effort," Pineda said.
But considering his team's mid-season struggles, Pineda said there is plenty to be proud of regarding his players.
"After losing six games in a row no one would have given three pennies for us," he said. "But we picked up our level of play, won nine games in a row, played for a Regional championship."