The Hazen Highlanders soccer team sure does love their drama this year.
After a rough start to the season nearly put them out of playoff contention, the Highlanders rallied at the end of the year to earn the No. 3 in the Seamount League and a playoff berth Tuesday against Peninsula of the South Puget Sound League.
Then Hazen spotted the Seahawks two early goals and staged a comeback that ended with a stoppage-time goal and 3-2 opening round win.
According to Coach Ken Matthews, the comeback was spurred by a change in formation.
“We were down 2-0 with 28 minutes left in the game. Not much was going our way.Bre (Hazen Assistant Coach Bre Vanden Bos) felt we needed to shake it up a little,” Matthews said in a press release.
Shifting into a 3-4-3 formation from a 3-5-2, Hazen scored almost right after the change.
“Putting the third forward up top always puts a little extra pressure on the opponents defense. But, Alphabet (junior forward Ricky Aguirre) had his best game of the year – and he timed it when we really needed it,” Matthews said.
With Aguirre pressuring the defense, senior captain and forward Luis Puga scored on an assist by forward Isaiah Blount in the 53rd minute. Puga then assisted midfielder Jorman Gonzalez on Hazen’s second to tie the game at 72 minutes in.
“In my opinion, that’s where experience took over,” Matthews added.
In the last three years, Hazen Soccer has played a total of nine playoff games, compiling a 6-3 record. Over the same time frame, Peninsula has gone 1-1 in their only playoff appearance, two years ago.
“It makes a difference,” Matthews said. “We had guys out there tonight who have played all nine of those games. I think that gave us a slight advantage – that sounds like I knew we would win; nothing could be further from the truth. The referees added two minutes stoppage time; never in my wildest dreams.”
While Matthews was making subs to get his penalty kick line up on the field, Blount scored the game winner with less than a minute left. Sophomore Reyes Garcia had the assist. After the goal, Hazen hunkered down on defense and waited for the whistle.
The win advances Hazen to the Bi-district First Round Playoffs. They will play the Narrows League No. 2 seed, Foss High School at 7 p.m. Thursday at Stadium High School in Tacoma. The winner advances, the loser will see their season end.