SHORELINE — The No. 2 Tumwater girls soccer team got a bitter lesson in how hard it can be to beat a team twice, falling to No. 6 Columbia River 3-1 in the 2A state tournament semifinals Friday at Shoreline Stadium.
Fifteen days ago, the T-Birds edged out the Rapids to earn the District 4 title. This time around, though, with the stakes raised and Tumwater playing the latest it ever has in program history, things went differently.
“We were just a little off,” Tumwater coach Brett Bartlett said. “We weren’t great. The kids worked really hard, but because they didn’t really find their rhythm, they just seemed out-of-sync, and that’s the first time all year that’s happened. When that happens, it’s a fairly young group, so there was a bit of panic. We were very passive in our play; we weren’t pushing the game, we were waiting for the game to happen.”
The Rapids, who were in the semifinals for the sixth straight postseason, slowly got the better of possession, and when they did cash in, did so with a formula the Thunderbirds knew well.
Columbia River struck first in the 21st minute, with Avah Eslinger cutting back along the right side and sending in a cross to Paige Johnson, who headed it home to make it 1-0.
That would be the score going into halftime, but coming out of the break, the Rapids’ tactics didn’t change. In the 47th minute, Eslinger got the ball down the right side again. This time, she chose to do all the work herself, cutting in an extra step before lofting an inch-perfect floating shot over Tumwater keeper Sydney Woods and into the side netting to double the lead.
“They were taking advantage of some situations that our kids struggled with,” Bartlett said. “They were using a pattern that we normally use, where you’re running your forward out into the channel and then playing the ball down the line, and we weren’t cutting off the pass. That was a problem. It’s not like our kids haven’t worked against that before, so it was a little bit odd.”
Tumwater found its spark immediately after the second goal, drawing a penalty kick within a minute, and Kayla Pope put it home to cut the deficit back to a goal. But for all the pressure the T-Birds managed, they didn’t manage another shot on frame out of open play the rest of the match.
Even when the Rapids had set-piece opportunities, they made them count from the wide areas. In the 63rd minute, River earned a corner kick, and Peyton Dukes curled it in directly from the flag, putting the game — which started out with temperatures dropping into the 30s and only got colder — on ice.
Tumwater will get one more match in its season, playing for third place Saturday at 1 p.m., against either Sehome or Enumclaw.
“We talk about how we can only play where our feet are, and that’s behind us now; we have to let that go, we have to move forward,” Bartlett said. “We set that target of when we go to dinner tonight, it’s gone. We’re playing tomorrow for the opportunity to be the best-finishing soccer team, boys or girls, from Tumwater High School. We’re playing for that.”