MONROE — Beware the Snohomish Panthers.
Hitting a midseason stride, the reigning Western Conference North division champion Panthers grounded the Monroe Bearcats with a 4-0 Wesco North division shutout at the Bearcats’ home-away-from home, Monroe Memorial Stadium, on Wednesday night.
The victory was Snohomish’s fifth in its past six games and allowed the Panthers (6-1-1 overall, 19 points) to take sole possession of second place in the North. The loss dropped the Bearcats (5-2-1, 16) into fourth place behind Marysville-Pilchuck (6-2-0), which beat Oak Harbor on Wednesday night.
Snohomish trails Cascade (7-1-0) by two points in the standings. The two teams face each other for the second time this season on April 8 at Snohomish.
The Panthers continued their hot play, finishing off the first-half schedule by outscoring their opponents 27-3 in the past six games.
The three goals Snohomish allowed all came in a 3-3 tie against Lake Stevens on Monday.
“For 15 minutes against Lake Stevens, that was probably some of the worse soccer we’ve played,” Snohomish head coach Dan Pingrey said. “We flat out broke down. There was no excuse for it. We’re a good team.”
Aaron Burns and Jackson Miller each scored first-half goals and Brian Holguin and Spencer Helfrich added second-half goals in the Panthers’ victory over Monroe.
Burns goal came nearly three minutes into the game when the senior midfielder scored on a Diego Robayo assist.
Robayo got his second assist of the night on a nice give-and-go play with 16 minutes remaining in the first half. After receiving the ball from Miller, Robayo played the ball of his chest before dishing it back to Miller for the score.
“Their two goals on set plays were beautiful. That second goal was phenomenal,” Monroe head coach Ryan Schaeffer said.
“It was a great job by Diego laying it off.” Pingrey said. “We’ve had some pretty amazing goals up front (this season) with combinations and creativity. You’re never going to hear me say ‘Don’t do that’. I want them to be creative. I don’t ever want to shut them down,”
With six minutes remaining in the half, Monroe nearly cut the score to 2-1 when a shot hit the right goalpost and then was cleared out by a Snohomish defender.
Monroe goalkeeper Andrew Chavez prevented Snohomish from adding to its first-half lead by putting on an impressive display of goalkeeping.
Chavez dove right, blocking one shot. The rebound was kicked back towards the left-side of the goal, but Chavez recovered to block the Panthers second attempt. The Panthers gathered in the rebound and took another shot, but Chavez again recovered and blocked that attempt.
“It was pretty intense … pretty impressive,” Schaeffer said of his senior keeper.
Despite the loss, Monroe is still confident and pleased with the way the first-half of the season has gone.
“Absolutely — best start we’ve had in the five years I’ve been here,” Schaeffer said. “We’re in a good spot. … The thought that we’re complaining about being in third place is good, that’s not something we’ve been able to say around here the past few years.”
Monroe has not reached the postseason since 2005 and is a year removed from going 6-9-1 and finishing sixth in the North division.
The Bearcats are playing at Monroe Memorial Stadium while their home field is getting a new turf put on it. The field caused problems for a Snohomish team that normally relies on its speed and quickness to get ahead of opposing defenders.
Still the Panthers were able to take advantage of a couple of lapses in the Bearcats’ defense, and used a four-man defensive backfield in slowing down the Monroe offense.
At Monroe Memorial
Goals — Snohomish: Burns, Miller, Holguin, Helfrich. Assists — Snohomish: Robayo 2, Gundry, Holguin. Goalkeepers — Snohomish: MacArthur and Jarvis. Monroe: Chavez and Garman. Records — Snohomish 6-1-1 in league and overall. Monroe 5-2-1.