PLEASANT HILL – The Pleasant Hill Billies girls soccer team hosted Santiam Christian Tuesday night in a Mountain Valley Conference playoff game, with the winner moving on to the postseason and the loser going home. The Billie overcame Santiam Christian 2-0 behind two second-half goals from senior Lydia Whitney, moving on to the playoffs for the third-straight season.
“We’ve had some injuries, especially early in the year. And finally, we’re still a little sore, but all of our girls are back,” said Pleasant Hill head coach Chris Hammond. “I’m just happy for them because they’ve worked hard. It’s been a trying season. We haven’t won as much as we’d like to and we haven’t played as well early as we are used to, but I’m just glad we’re back in the state playoffs.”
Pleasant Hill (9-5-2) finished the regular season as the fourth-seed in the MVC, meaning the Billies hosted fifth-seeded Santiam Christian for the playoff spot. Pleasant Hill handled SC 5-3 in the first game between the two teams, but a 2-2 draw in the second outing earlier this month meant the conference playoff game was anyone’s to win. A scoreless first half in Tuesday’s rain-soaked affair made that sentiment even more true.
That is, until Whitney got her foot on the ball. Whitney broke the scoreless tie with a 57th-minute goal that slipped through the goalkeeper’s gloves.
“I felt pretty good, and I’m glad that we’re going to the state playoffs, so that should be good,” Whitney said. “I just wanted to give it my all and see where it got us.”
Whitney got another chance to give it her all 23 minutes later when sophomore Trinity Smead crossed a ball in the box. Whitney sent the cross into the back of the net, giving Pleasant Hill a 2-0 lead with 10 minutes left in the game.
“(Lydia) was amazing. She just kept at it, and she’s just got so much energy. Her motor’s always going,” Hammond said. “She really has come on at the end of the season. She’s scored in almost every game the last two, three weeks, so she’s been great.”
Whitney scored 8 goals on the season, but 5 of those have come in the final four games of the season. Whitney said she didn’t feel like anything specific changed over the last few weeks, just that she’s continued “pushing myself to my full potential.” Whitney now attempts to continue her hot streak into her final high school soccer postseason.
“It definitely means a lot. Looking back, it’s definitely going to be something that I’ll be glad to say that we did for my senior year,” Whitney said. “We’ve done it the past few years, and I’m always so excited about it.”
Sophomore goalkeeper Kenna Caldwell added 16 saves on the night, and the Billies shut out a Santiam Christian team that averaged 2.5 goals a game against them this season. Hammond attested the shutout to multiple things, including defensive health and a familiarity with Santiam Christian’s offense.
“I think it’s great. You know, the girls have really worked hard, and especially the injured girls, to try and come back. They’ve done everything they can with physical therapy to get back,” Hammond said. “I think we knew what to anticipate from them. We knew that they’re going to kick a lot of far balls and hope that they could get past our line, and I think we just knew how to play them better.”
The Billies went into the game ranked No. 18 in Class 3A, so Hammond expected the team to have to travel on Saturday for a first-round playoff game. When the bracket released late Tuesday night though, Pleasant Hill had jumped to No. 16 in the rankings, earning a home playoff game against No. 17 Riverdale – who just so happens to have knocked Pleasant Hill out of the postseason the last two years.
“We’re practicing every day leading up to the playoffs, that’s for sure,” Hammond said. “We’re ready to fight, and just give it everything we’ve got.”
The Billies host Riverdale at Pleasant Hill High School this Saturday, October 28 at noon.