SUNNYSIDE — The Grizzlies unyielding second half comeback ran out of time as the Big 9 Conference champs fell to Pasco 2-1 during the opening round of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) 4A State Soccer Tournament at Clem Senn Field on Tuesday evening.

At the end of the game, words were hard to find for both coaches and players — their soccer season was over and for the seniors, the brotherhood of playing for Sunnyside had come to a heart-wrenching end.

“I thought that we were going to end up coming back, and we didn’t,” senior co-captain Hector Cardenas communicated as his distraught voice pitched with anguish. “I’m very hurt. I don’t’ know if I’ll be playing at the next level. I’ve been playing since I was four… all these guys here are buds. It’s the end of an era, that’s it.”

The Mid-Columbia Conference Bulldogs (5-3,14-4) scored their first goal at 21:07 in the opening half. It was the first time in the playoffs that Sunnyside (9-3,10-4) didn’t strike first.

At the 8:11 mark, Pasco’s second goal came on a hurdling ball over the top of Sunnyside’s defense, which bounced its way into the net for a shocking 2-0 lead.

“A tale of two halves… we challenged them at halftime to come out and show who you are. You’ve got 40 minutes and however it goes, it goes,” Co-head Coach David Guevara expressed as he shared in his team’s emotional state. “The kids didn’t quit which was great. Even until the last second, they were fighting to win the ball. We told them to keep their heads up!”

Senior midfielder Mario Negrete headed home a centered pass directly in front of Pasco’s goal box for the lone Sunnyside goal at 29:27 in the second half. The Grizzlies would continue to attack the Bulldogs’ defense and putting strong shots on goal until the final whistle.

Throughout the game and on both sides of the field, the bounce of the ball didn’t favor the hometown team. The reality of the moment struck hard for every member of the Grizzly soccer family.

They sat down upon the field as a team one last time to hear from their appreciative coaches — players pulled up their jerseys to cover up a company of swollen eyes as they will carry a season’s worth of personal growth and achievement gained from the field.

“They were able to kind of build something together. We got them to believe in each other, and I think that was huge for them,” Guevara tearfully acknowledged. “At the end of the season and being in the top 16 teams of the state, is no easy feat.”

After all the coaches spoke, senior co-captain Francisco Lagunas who will be taking his student-athlete talents to Saint Martin’s University, a Division 2 school in Lacey, stood up and addressed the team.

“It was a pleasure of playing with varsity as a four-year starter with everyone. I have great memories and learned a lot with all of them,” Lagunas stated. “I believe in my family. It’s not just a team, were a family!”

Patrick Shelby can be contacted at 509-837-4500, ext. 110 or email PShelby@SunnysideSun.com

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