WOODLAND – Coming into Wednesday’s match, the La Center girls soccer team had never made it past the first round of the state tournament.
That was news to head coach Horst Malunat.
“Madisen Newbury came up to me before that game and told me that,” Malunat said, referring to one of his seniors. “I said ‘Well, let’s go out and make history tonight.’ ”
The Wildcats made history Wednesday in thrilling fashion.
Shaela Bradley scored her third match of the goal with about 30 seconds to play, sending La Center to a come-from-behind 3-2 win over Meridian of Bellingham in the first round of the Class 1A state playoffs.
“This is the first time our school team has ever made it past the first round,” Bradley said. “I know my sophomore year we made it to state and we actually lost on this field (at Woodland High School). It’s just incredible that we’ve made it.”
Bradley played a vital role in the Wildcats’ first state advancement.
La Center twice found itself behind by one goal, only to have Bradley answer to tie the match up.
“Shaela is just that person that when the chips are down, she’s just going to find a way to help us,” Malunat said. “She’s kind of like our (Lionel) Messi. Se’s in there, she plays, she moves the ball, But when she wants to take over, she can take over the game.”
Meridian took a 1-0 lead in the 18th minute, converting a penalty kick that was a result of a handball call on La Center in the box.
But 10 minutes later, Bradley took possession of the ball on the La Center side of the field, then worked her way through the Meridian defense to drive home the tying goal.
Then Meridan took a 2-1 lead into halftime when Morgan Adams converted on a free kick that slipped through the Wildcat defense.
The La Center defense kept the Trojans from adding on, and that allowed Bradley to tie the match 2-2 with her second goal in the 64th minute.
Both teams had chances late, but La Center came the closest to getting the go-ahead goal when Sadie Pratt’s header sailed just over the crossbar with about five minutes to play.
Then inside the final minute, La Center was mounting an attack on the goal when the ball got played back to sophomore Briley Vanderhoef, who fed the ball back into Bradley for the winning goal.
“They didn’t mark me,” Bradley said. “So I got open. Luckily, (the ball) was on the ground and it squeaked in.”
La Center advances to play at Cashmere at 1 p.m. Saturday in the first state quarterfinal in school history.
And Malunat said the Wildcats must be ready from the opening whistle.
“We did not play a really good first half,” Malunat said. “Going into our next game, we can’t just play 40 minutes. We played much better in the second half, but we have to bring that the whole game.”