Monte soccer on the rise

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Monte goalie Jeff Varness makes a save on a Hoquiam breakaway on Friday.
Monte's Brandon Lovell (11) works to get a shot on goal against Hoquiam on Friday.
Monte goalie Jeff Varness gets mauled by his teammates after he blocked penalty kick to give the Bulldogs the win over Hoquiam.

The Evergreen 1A League boys soccer title has come down to a shootout, with the three top teams within a half game of one another going into the final two matches of the regular season.

For the Montesano High School boys soccer team, the season has almost literally been a shootout as the Bulldogs competed in their fifth shootout this season against Hoquiam on Friday. The Bulldogs found the back of the net on their first three penalty kicks, and two saves by goalie Jeff Varness helped Monte win 0-0 (3-2).

“I think we outplayed them, especially coming to their place,” coach Mike Malpass said. “What a league. Any game is anyone’s game.”

Monte (8-6, 6-4) came out slow against Tenino on April 28 and dropped the match to the Beavers, 0-0 (3-2), but it was a different energy from the beginning against Hoquiam on Friday. The Bulldogs outworked Hoquiam in the first half, but two missed opportunities kept the game scoreless. Junior Brandon Lovell earned a penalty kick in just the second minute of the game, but missed the kick wide. Lovell also had a chance in the 26th minute when he received a pass, but hit the post from 18 yards out.

In the second half, it was the Grizzlies who couldn’t take advantage of opportunities. Hoquiam had a breakaway in the 42nd minute, but Varness was able to stop the shot from Hoquiam’s Angel Mazariegos. In the 60th minute, Hoquiam’s Alex PugaDeLaRosa’s penalty kick was blocked by Varness to preserve the shutout and send the Bulldogs into their second shootout of the week.

Before the game started, Malpass was taking penalty kicks on Varness.

“I put two by him earlier tonight,” Malpass said.

The coach was one of only two people to get the ball by Varness on Friday. PugaDeLaRosa slipped the ball by Varness into the left side of the net with the first kick of shootout, but that would be the only kick the Grizzlies would convert.

Nolan Walker put Monte on the board with the first kick, which caromed off Hoquiam goalie Taj Malone’s hand. Monte senior David Sawyer found the back of the net on his kick and Varness added his own kick moments later .

Varness saved the second kick for Hoquiam and watched the third kick fly over the net, making the game come down to one final kick from Hoquiam’s Tanner Strom, which Varness swatted away.

“Jeff stepped up and he is quite the force in the goal,” Malpass said. “He has such a big prescence in the goal and he is smart. The combination of him using his soccer brain and his skill and his size.”

The win was the second victory for Monte over Hoquiam in a shootout this season. On April 17, the Bulldogs beat the Grizzlies 1-1 (3-2) in a shootout. The two wins give Monte tie-breaker over Hoquiam, but the Bulldogs still have work to do if they hope to win the league championship. Monte played Rochester on Tuesday and will face off with league leader Elma on Thursday. Malpass knows how big the rivalry is between the two East County teams, but he hopes to approach the matchup the same as every other game this season.

“This is another step toward the playoffs,” Malpass said. “I believe that this team can win our next two games and we are pushing for that. If we keep playing and playing hard that makes me happy. If they believe in themselves. If the right team shows up with the right mentality we have no problems at all.”