The Oregon Episcopal School rode two second-half goals from senior Kennedy Balandi in a 2-0 shutout win over previously-undefeated Brookings-Harbor Tuesday afternoon. The 3A/2A/1A semifinal win puts the Aardvarks into the championship match for the third time in five years. They last won a state title in 2014.
Brookings-Harbor may have been the team with the unblemished record, but it was OES that dominated from the start. Patrick Ruoff, Mason Lee and Henry Giannini created numerous chances from the midfield and Balandi, Jonah Song and Alex Ugas worked hard to turn those chances into goals. The Bruin defense had allowed just five goals all season, however, and wasn’t about to yield anything easy. Hobbes Howard led the packed in B-H defense in front of keeper Juan Hernandez and managed to keep the Aardvarks off the scoreboard for the entire first half.
Not that Oregon Episcopal didn’t have quality chances. In the game’s ninth minute, Balandi got a pass in close from Ugas and fired over the crossbar. In the 16th minute, Hugh Shanno’s shot from distance forced Hernandez to make a full extension save with hands above his head. Late in the half Song used his strength to possess the ball at the top of the box, turned and first a shot to the far post that might have beaten a lesser keeper. Hernandez was there, however, to make a sprawling save and made another with seconds left before the break on Lee’s left-footed rocket.
In the meantime, OES goalie Alex Colleran was pretty lonely. The ball was rarely on his side of the field and, when it was, James Lawliss and Jonathan Segal did a nice job of clearing the ball away. The only first-half threat for Brookings-Harbor came on a free kick from 30 yards, but Fabian Villa’s right-footed shot sailed well above the crossbar.
Oregon Episcopal (15-2-1) continued to apply heavy pressure to start the second half. The Aardvarks had seven quality chances to zero for Brookings-Harbor before they finally broke through in the 63rd minute, when Balandi, from the top of the box, turned and beat the diving keeper with a right-footed shot to the far post. Balandi scored again in the 66th minute on a sensational pass from Ugas, a senior exchange student from Spain. The ball found Balandi unmarked just a few yards from the goal. Hernandez had no chance.
Watching what his team was able to do early on, OES head coach David Rosenberg said after the match that he knew it was only a matter of time before the Aardvarks would break through.
“It felt like we had the run of play,” he said. “Brookings had a game plan coming in and did a good job of frustrating our attack. We just had to stay with how we play and finish the job.”
The win earned OES a finals rematch with Catlin Gabel, which blanked Taft, 6-0, in the other semifinals. Catlin Gabel defeated OES, 1-0, for the title last year and piled on with a pair of 3-0 wins this year, OES’ only two losses of the season.
“They’re a fantastic team,” said Rosenberg. “We’re excited to have the opportunity to battle against them again.”