SUMNER — Columbia River could have scored any number of ways in Friday’s 2A State boys soccer semifinal.
The Chieftains had opportunities for the sublime and the simple, the gritty and the point blank. But the lone ball that found the net in the Chieftains’ 1-0 win over Fife at Sunset Chev Stadium wasn’t even theirs to take credit for.
In the 19th minute, Jackson Kleier’s throw-in caromed off the back of a Fife defender’s foot and slid into the net. It was all the defending champions needed to return to the state championship — against Sehome of Bellingham at 5 p.m. Saturday.
“We practice those throw-in plays every single day and we’ve gotten it down to a science,” said Kleier, noting that it’s not often exactly like Friday’s score. “It was a fluke, but it went in. Luckily, it did.”
In a game that flowed more like a rugby match than a soccer contest, the Chieftains (21-0-1) were taken out of their comfort zone. On the smaller side, a big and physical Trojan (19-2-3) side forced the ball into the air and demanded River work for everything.
And yet, River was still the aggressor. The Chieftains launched 13 shots on goal to Fife’s four.
“They showed how resilient and tough they were,” River coach Filly Afenegus said. “It was a very physical game and they did a great job keeping their composure. They grinded it out to the very end and I’m really proud of them.”
Jake Connop had several chances at beautiful finishes from dangerous crosses. They often fell into the keeper’s hands. He ripped a shot off the crossbar in the 15th minute, too.
The Chieftains could have doubled their lead in the 23rd minute, when Fife goalkeeper Tanner Guirsch denied Sideris Kosaris from the penalty spot.
That was the way it went for the Chieftains all night. Greer Snellman’s point-blank opportunity was drilled at the goalkeeper in the 35th, and Aaron Espinosa’s hustle down the backside of the Fife defense resulted in a shot that sailed high.
But it was Kleier’s arms and a bit of fortune that saved the Chieftains’ day. It’s nothing new for the junior defender to not show up in the boxscore despite a hand in the result.
The versatile outside back doesn’t mind it; he just enjoys helping his team in any way he can. And his denial of a Fife run down the end line, followed, seconds later, by him kickstarting a dangerous attack shows he can do it all.
“He’s got quite the motor on him,” Afenegus said. “He can get up and down the field. He’s been doing it all year, the last three years for us, so it’s really no surprise.”
They’ll need him to be impressive again with Sehome (18-1-3) on tap. The Mariners (17-1-3) haven’t been beaten in 17 straight and took down Toppenish 2-1 Friday. River’s unbeaten streak stands at 45.
COLUMBIA RIVER 1, FIFE 0
Goals (assists) — Own goal; Goalkeeper saves — Miles Miranda 4.
Goalkeeper saves — Tanner Guirsch 11.
Halftime — Columbia River 1-0.