EDMONDS — In the 60th minute of the 4A District 1 soccer championship Thursday night, Snohomish’s Uriel Herrera had the Panthers’ best scoring chance of the night, but he blew it.
Teammate John Magnus delivered a brilliant through ball, leaving Herrera all alone in the box with just the Lake Stevens goalie between him and the game’s first goal. The sophomore midfielder had a moment to take a breath and unload a shot from 12 yards out, but a strong tailwind did him no favors and the ball caromed hard off the crossbar.
“A little frustrating,” Herrera said after the game, shaking his head.
The frustration of playing the team’s biggest rival to a scoreless draw for three-fourths of a game didn’t get to the Panthers, nor to Herrera, who made up for the missed opportunity five minutes later, scoring the game winner in Snohomish’s 1-0 victory.
In the 65th minute, Herrera beat two defenders and smashed a ground strike past the grasp of goalie Brennon Countryman.
Herrera took out what remained of his frustration on the corner flag, sprinting over to give it a jump kick before being mobbed by his teammates.
“It feels great,” he said.
The win means Snohomish (16-0-1) avenged its only blemish on the season — a 1-1 tie with Lake Stevens (13-4-2) in the regular-season finale — and advances to the 4A state tournament as the district’s top seed.
“Our goal has been to win a state championship,” Panthers coach Dan Pingrey said. “Now we are in position where, if we win a state championship, we’re undefeated. So it’s a good thing.
“I’ve been proud of these guys. They’ve taken all of this in stride.”
The teams are very familiar with each other and ended the first half at a stalemate, with neither team earning any serious scoring chances before halftime. But Pingrey made some adjustments that paid off midway through the second half.
“We changed up,” Pingrey said. “We were too spread out. We changed up our players as well. Uriel was doing some good things. He had a great game. He was becoming very active for us and we wanted him to come out of the midfield (on offense) and that’s exactly what started happening.”
Once Herrera scored, the Panthers’ stout defense held off the Vikings’ furious charge for the remainder of the game. Lake Stevens’ Tanner Sellars broke free in the 73rd minute, but his right foot was a yard too strong as his shot pushed wide of the far post.
Brendan George recorded the clean sheet for Snohomish. James Tanner held the Panthers scoreless for the first half before being subbed for Countryman in the second.
Lake Stevens played far better than a team that simply could have been happy to be in the district final. The Vikings lost to Mariner on Saturday, but their season was resurrected when Mariner was forced to forfeit because of an ineligible player. The Vikings then upset Jackson 2-1 Tuesday, Lake Stevens had already earned a bid to the state tournament regardless of Thursday’s outcome. But the Vikings, who wore shirts in pregame that said, “You only live twice,” played like they wanted the district’s top seed.
“I feel like we played really well in the first three-fourths of the game,” Vikings coach Kit Shanholtzer said.
But one defensive lapse was the difference. After the game Shanholtzer had a friendly exchange with the Snohomish coach. “I told Pingrey I’d love to play him one more time,” Shanholtzer said.
That meeting would have to happen in the state finals May 26 at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup. Both teams want it, but know they’ll have to beat three worthy opponents to get there.
“I told the guys we’ve got like 84 4A teams in Washington and now we are down to 16,” Pingrey said, “and there’s not one of them that’s not good.”
At Edmonds Stadium
Goals—Uriel Herrera (S) 1. Goalkeepers—Snohomish: Brendan George. Lake Stevens: James Tanner, Brennon Countryman. Records—Lake Stevens 13-5-2 overall. Snohomish 17-0-1.
Jon Saperstein covers high school sports for The Herald, follow him on twitter @jonsap and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.