ABERDEEN — The Grays Harbor Gulls were able to stay out of the relegation zone with a 3-1 win over the Lacey Pocket Gophers on Saturday at Stewart Field.
Grays Harbor (3-2 Western Washington Premier League) moved into fifth place with the win in a league where the top six teams will remain in the upper division while the bottom five teams will be relegated to Division 2 for the 2020 season.
The Gulls also have a history with the Pocket Gophers (0-1-4), who they fell to in a hotly contested 4-3 game last season that was decided on a controversial penalty kick late in the second half.
Gulls head coach Drew Grannemann said Saturday’s victory felt bigger than the average mid-season win.”
“It pushes us up a little bit away from relegation which is good, but with Lacey kind of being our rival team in the league, it makes it that much sweeter,” he said. “Even though it’s a mid-season game, it feels so much more important than that because of the emotions going in.”
Grays Harbor came into the game looking to make a statement early and capitalized on one of the first scoring opportunities of the match.
In the fifth minute, Jonathan Molina finished a cross from Alex Pugadelarosa to put the Gulls up 1-0. Molina’s far-post shot rocketed past Lacey keeper Joshua Briley to give the Gulls the early lead.
But Grays Harbor wouldn’t hold on to that lead for long. The Pocket Gophers tied the game in the 17th minute when Alex Bradbury’s attempt to find a player on the back post with a cross worked out better than he planned. The cross attempt found its way into the top corner of the back post as Gulls goalie Alexis Garcia had trouble reading the trajectory of the ball.
After surrendering the game-tying goal, Grays Harbor continued to generate chances. The Gulls forced Briley to make three more saves in the first half and had two corner attempts cut down by Briley before a Gulls forward could connect with a header.
Grannemann said there has been a marked improvement in the ball movement from the start of the season.
“There were a lot more moments of being more fluid with the ball on the field. There were moments we built the ball up from the keeper to the forwards and switch sides of the field pretty effortlessly,” he said. “That has to do a lot with chemistry and knowing other players’ positioning. We were anticipating more than reacting.”
The Gulls’ offensive efforts finally paid off in the 40th minute when Juanito Lopez took an ambitious shot from five yards outside the box that skipped in past Briley to put Grays Harbor up 2-1.
Lacey came out after halftime looking for another equalizer but had trouble connecting on passes through the midfield. As a result, the Pocket Gophers put three shots on frame in the second half without Garcia having to make another save the rest of the match.
Juan Oropeza said shutting down the opposition has been difficult at times with the rotating cast of defenders but he thinks the Gulls found the right combination of players on Saturday.
“It seems like we get some new defenders every game but this time around we had strong defenders and we adjusted well,” he said.
A little pressure was taken off of the back line when the Gulls picked up an insurance goal in the 78th minute. Alex Barene controlled a loose ball a few yards inside the box and chipped a shot over the top of Lacey defenders and Briley to send the ball bouncing into the back of the net.
Despite a few break downs at the back, Gophers head coach Chris Crowe said he’s confident in his team’s ability to limit scoring opportunities going forward.
“The back line was wonderful,” he said. “They played fantastic and we probably have the six or seven in the back hands down.”
Grays Harbor will travel to Issaquah to take on the Issaquah Gunners at 3 p.m. on Saturday.
The Gunners and Gulls split a pair of games last season and Grannemann said it’s hard to get a gauge on what to expect from them with the amount of roster turnover around the league.
“Last season, we played each team twice and you could make mistakes the first time and get back the second time,” he said. “Now that we play each time once, every game is on the fly. You can only scout so much but at this level teams will always have different players, so it’s tough to game plan.”
Grays Harbor 1 2 – 3
Lacey 1 0 – 1
Top Players: Grays Harbor – Molina (G, 5th minute), Lopez (G, 40th minute), Barene (G, 78th minute); Lacey – Bradbury (G, 17th minute)