Their noses red and eyes filled with tears, the Columbia River soccer players emerged one by one from the Kiggins Bowl locker room.
Last out was Filomon Afenegus. His role had switched from coach to counselor after one of the biggest upsets this year in Washington high school soccer.
Liberty of Renton knocked off the defending 3A state champion Chieftains 2-0 in a first-round state playoff match Wednesday.
Afenegus’ post-game message was succinct.
“I told them ‘thank you,” he said. “This has been the best two years of coaching I’ve ever had. To not only have great players but good people …. It’s a special group and you don’t get those very often.”
The loss ends one of the best two-year stretches for any soccer team in Clark County. In two years under Afenegus, Columbia River had won 36 games, tied three and lost none heading into Wednesday.
Columbia River had outscored opponents 83-0 this season.
But River faced a foe that was organized and unintimidated. Liberty lost to River in the state semifinals last year and finished second in state in 2011.
“We did a lot of preparation for them,” Liberty coach Tami Nguyen said. “It was more mental than anything. It’s just the belief. If you can instill that in your players, it goes a long way. It certainly did tonight.”
Liberty (11-4-4) finished No. 2 in the KingCo League. The Patriots will face Bishop Blanchet in the quarterfinals.
After an even first half, Liberty made its breakthrough 15 minutes into the second half. Sami Harrell led a counterattack down the left side of the penalty box.
She crossed to Jacquelin Anderson, who rocketed a shot under the crossbar.
Pushing everyone forward, River had a few chances in the waning minutes. But its forwards couldn’t get good contact on their shots and never really tested Liberty’s goalkeeper.
River’s fate was sealed with under two minutes remaining.
Harrell scored on a counterattack that had her one-on-one with the goalkeeper.
In Liberty, Columbia River saw somewhat of a mirror image.
Both teams play 4-4-3 formations with a priority on possession.
“There were no secrets,” Afenegus said. “They knew us, we knew them. It was going to come down to who made those defining plays.”