Cottage Grove, High School Sports, Sports

Coach: Second-place finish leaves Lions with ‘hunger’

HILLSBORO – The Cottage Grove Lions boys soccer team battled all the way to the Class 4A state title match but came up just short, losing 2-1 in extra time against No. 4 Newport on Saturday at Liberty High School. The runner-up finish is the second-best result in program history, only behind the 2008 state title team.

“I am proud beyond words. What these guys have accomplished, nobody thought we could. We were never on anybody’s radar until we started winning games,” said a teary-eyed Jaime Urenda, Cottage Grove’s head coach. “It just goes to show what these guys are made of. This is just one setback, but we’ll be back next year for sure.”

The Lions, ranked No. 6, didn’t have an easy path to the title game, despite what their opponents’ rankings might say. Cottage Grove beat No. 11 Ontario, the defending state champs, 5-3 in round 1, beat No. 14 Estacada 4-2 in the quarterfinals, and beat No. 10 The Dalles 3-1 in the semis. In every playoff game, the Lions found themselves down at one point or another.

“The resilience of the guys was incredible. I think in every game we went down a goal, and we came back every single time,” Urenda said. “We played every game through the final whistle, and that just goes to show the guys’ character and the hard fight they put in day in and day out.”

After Sebastian Guzman of Newport opened the title-game scoring in the 15th minute, Cottage Grove was once again in familiar territory. And in familiar fashion, the Lions answered. Junior Christian Gonzalez took a shot from outside the box, and junior Rogelio Soto-Cruz redirected it into the back of the net, tying the game 40 seconds after Newport took the lead.

The rest of regulation was scoreless, though senior goalkeeper Jace Meyer had multiple clutch saves late to help the Lions force extra time. All 5 of Meyer’s saves came in the second half.

After more than an hour of scoreless game time, it seemed as though the game was destined for penalty kicks. Only two minutes into the first overtime, though, Newport’s Ivan Hernandez rocketed a shot from 18 yards out to give Newport the lead, one it wouldn’t relinquish.

“Newport, you gotta give it to them, they’re a really good team. They definitely took us out of our game for a while. We had a good moment there in that first half, after we went down, to equalize,” Urenda said. “After that it just seemed like we couldn’t get anything going. But the guys fought hard. I gotta give it to them, this is probably the best group I’ve ever coached.”

When Urenda says the Lions will be back next year, he means it. Cottage Grove loses only four seniors: goalie Jace Meyer, defender Eli Williams, and forwards Seazer Ibarra and Jose Hernandez Chavez.

“The fact that they’ve had this experience of the playoffs is important. Most of these guys have never experienced past a play-in. Now that we have this experience, it goes a long way and leaves that hunger in them,” Urenda said. “They’re gonna want to push that next step, push further, and that’s what we’re gonna be striving for.”

The Lions boys soccer team poses together with their second-place trophy.

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