By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes
Kayla Evans was fighting back tears before her last home soccer game at McNary.
But afterwards she couldn’t stop smiling as the Lady Celtics earned themselves a state play-in game with a 1-1 tie against South Salem on Thursday, Oct. 20.
“I’ve played with some of these girls since I was six and it’s just an emotional thing thinking after 12 years playing with them that this is our last home game,” Evans said. “It just blows my mind. This day was just really important for me. We had a lot at stake. I think we performed well for how much pressure was on us.”
The Lady Saxons scored their goal in the first minute of the game.
“Senior night is a vulnerable night,” McNary head coach AJ Nash said. “You’ve got a lot of emotions going into it and we kind of let our guard down. We goofed up in the beginning.”
“In the first few seconds when they scored my heart broke a little bit,” senior Abigail Smith said. “I just remembered that we had lots of time to come back.”
The Lady Celts shifted their formation to a 4-5-1 to put an additional player in the midfield.
Their best chances to score came off set pieces. A corner kick in the 29th minute hit the post.
McNary lost Natalie Gonzalez late in the first half. The sophomore midfielder had to be carted off the field with an injury and didn’t return.
Evans limped off the field six minutes into the second half but re-entered eight minutes later.
Sophomore Anita Lao tried to head in a corner kick from sophomore Gina Munguia in the 58th minute but couldn’t get a direct strike on the ball.
But the Lady Celts got the equalizer it needed with 13:35 remaining when Munguia crossed the ball to sophomore Abigail Hawley, who one-touched it to the far post, past the goalkeeper and into the net.
“It was so crazy,” Hawley said of the tying goal. “I love celebrating with all of my teammates afterwards. It’s such a great feeling. I was really playing for the seniors. I wanted them to have a good last game.”
The celebration included a big hug from Evans.
“I didn’t even say anything, I was just screaming,” Evans said. “I was so happy. Just having a shot like that in so much traffic and for her to get it far post on the ground clean past the keeper was amazing. I was so ecstatic.”
Before the game, McNary honored its 11 seniors, who were sophomores when Nash became head coach in 2014.
“They’ve carried us where we are,” Nash said. “They bought in. I would commend tonight’s result and the results in big games on the backs of the seniors. There’s only so much coaches can do. Results in big games are due to the leadership on the field and the seniors were our leadership on the field this year.”
Smith was just happy to play another day.
“I was so scared that this was going to be our last game together and I’m just so excited to be able to play with these girls again and for as long as I can,” she said. “I’m just so pumped. The whole season I just really wanted to get to this point. Everything is so surreal right now. Senior year comes so fast and I don’t want it to end.”
The play-in game, the Lady Celts first since 2013, will take place Tuesday. McNary, No. 33, will travel to Newberg to take on the 32nd ranked Lady Tigers.
“I’m proud of the way they’ve fought,” Nash said. “This is the best game they’ve played all season, not the best finishing, but certainly the best all around focus, intensity, effort and if we carry this momentum into the postseason, we should be able to earn that first playoff game.
“Hopefully, it’s the beginning of something special.We had a strong underclassmen contingent on the field all night tonight. I’m not looking forward to next year yet but if we can compete at this level and we can learn to feel what it’s like to win, that’s step one.”