ABERDEEN — As gut-wrenching losses go, this one ranks at the top.
The Aberdeen Bobcats held a 2-1 lead into stoppage time against the Ridgefield Spudders, but with just seconds remaining Ridgefield scored the equalizer and later won a penalty-kick shootout 5-4 to defeat the Bobcats in a gritty, physical 2A District playoff game at Stewart Field on Saturday.
With nearly 25 minutes elapsed, Ridgefield (11-6 overall) broke a scoreless tie when Joey Vossenkuhl’s high-arcing corner kick was pinballed around the Aberdeen box and eventually found the foot of Hunter Abrams. The sophomore forward blasted a hard shot to the top right corner of the net for a 1-0 Spudders lead.
Aberdeen (11-5) responded in the 32nd minute when senior forward Trevor Dawkins took a pass from Hulizes Chavez, made a hard-run into the box and got around Spudders defender Jonathan Flury, who clipped Dawkins from behind and was called for a foul to give Dawkins a penalty kick. The Aberdeen co-captain buried the subsequent PK in the back of the net to tie the game at 1-1, where the score remained at the half.
The Bobcats’ resolve was tested once again when team co-captain, midfielder Tony Oropeza, was fouled on a hard slide-tackle from Ridgefield defender Ethan Barnette, who caught the top of Oropeza’s cleat, causing the Aberdeen field general to sprain his left ankle. Oropeza was carried off the field and was unable to return.
Facing the loss of one of their most talented and experienced leaders in a close, back-and-forth matchup, Aberdeen responded by shutting down the Ridgefield offense for the majority of the second half and took the lead when Dawkins received a downfield pass from Rigo Alavez behind the Ridgefield defense, stutter-stepped left then juked right to cause Ridgefield goalkeeper Joe Lindbo to lose his balance and fall backward. Dawkins then calmly shot the the ball into the net to give the Bobcats a 2-1 lead with under nine minutes remaining.
Aberdeen head coach Larry Fleming was pleased with how his team persevered after falling behind early then losing a key leader.
“They did a great job. That’s why it’s (about) teamwork and not the individual,” Fleming said. “We actually played as good or better with Tony off the rest of the game. … Tony obviously makes a huge difference. It would have been great to have him, but they responded well.”
To the end of regulation and through a lengthy stoppage time, Aberdeen, led by its backline, held Ridefield at one goal until the waning moments of the contest, when the Spudders scored the tying goal using a familiar tactic.
With the potential for the referee to blow the whistle at any moment, Ridgefield was rewarded a corner kick. Similar to the goal in the first half, Vossenkuhl sent another rainbow toward the front of the Bobcats’ net. The ball was deflected back out to Vessenkuhl who sent a cross to the far post as Aberdeen’s defense shifted toward him, leaving Abrams available to head the ball past Bobcats goalie Luis Soto to tie the game and stun the Aberdeen faithful.
Ridgefield head coach Brian Newman said he requested the referee to extended time during the stoppage period due to several delays in play.
“We keep on having to chase balls. We were spending minutes,” explained Newman as to what he said to the referee during stoppage time. “I asked, ‘Can we get some time?’ and he gave us the time.”
“Crushing, we had about seven minutes of stoppage time,” chided Fleming. “That was a long two minutes at the end of that game. Somehow we gave them a corner at the end and they score. That’s pretty rough, being scored on with second left.”
The game remained a 2-2 tie through two five-minute overtime periods and headed to a penalty-kick shootout.
Aberdeen’s Jonathan Pizano shot first and sent a low liner toward the left post, but Lindo was able to dive to his right and make a full-extension save.
Four-straight conversions followed for each team, setting up Ridgeway’s Cole Wagner with the potential game-winning shot. Wagner sent the ball past Soto’s right side to give the Spudders the penalty-kick shootout victory 5-4 and the game 3-2.
“We gave ourselves a chance,” said Fleming, who now has to get his team ready to host Washougal at 6 p.m. today in the district’s consolation bracket (time to be determined) . “I just told them that was a great game. They played hard, played well and gave us a chance to win and that’s what we want. Monday we’ll get back to work and play better on Tuesday, but that’s always our mantra: Get ready for the next game.”