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regional opener

After losing to Byron and then tying them earlier this season, Oregon soccer coach Seger Larson predicted a 3-0 win for his team against the Tigers at the 1A Byron Regional.

That was exactly the outcome, as the No. 5 seed Hawks went on the road and upset No. 3 Byron under the lights.

“We struggled early on and lost games we should have won,” Larson said. “I’m proud to see the way these guys have grown.”

Two weeks ago, Oregon was 2-13-3, including the earlier 3-0 loss to the Tigers and a 1-1 draw. Since then, they’ve won four straight, a first for Larson in his 3 years as Hawk coach.

Taking advantage of the wind at their backs, the Hawks dominated play in the first half. They had six shots on goal compared to only one for Byron.

At the 22-minute mark, senior Jon Acosta took the ball near the net and made a perfect pass to Geronimo Leon. Leon, a foreign-exchange student from Ecuador, pounded the ball at goalkeeper Connor Harn, only to see it bounce back.

Leon took the rebound and then ran it by Harn with a hard shot for a 1-0 Hawk lead.

“They out-executed us and did the little things better than us,” Byron coach Andy Stavnem said. “I hated to face them a third time. They’ve gotten so much better.”

With Josh Sitze and Acosta controlling the ball on offense, Oregon put pressure on Byron’s side of the field all night.

“We were focusing more on possession and winning balls in the air,” Sitze said.

Acosta nearly made it 2-0 with 30 seconds left in the half, but twice missed a wide-open attempt at close range.

“That was the best complete half of soccer we played all year,” Larson said. “Offensively, we created chances. Several times, we missed open opportunities on the weak side.”

Oregon received a gift early in the second half when a Byron player inadvertently knocked the ball into his own net, giving the Hawks a 2-0 lead.

With 19 minutes left, Byron appeared to have its best chance for a breakaway goal, but Eli Rufer rushed towards the net and stopped the open shooter. With the stellar defense by Hawk goalkeeper Owen Ketter, it may have not mattered, though.

“That was the best defense we played all around,” Larson said. “Alan Acosta and Brigham Finch were the key cornerstones.”

A few minutes later, Sitze caught a rebound off a long shot by Finch. The ball bounced off Harn’s chest, and a diving Sitze was able to catch it with his foot for the final goal.

With how well Oregon defense was playing, that effectively put the game away.

“Our defense really stepped up,” Sitze said.

With the win, Oregon (6-13-3) advances to the regional final for the fourth straight year. The Hawks will meet Stillman Valley at 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 12.

Last year, the Hawks beat Byron in the first game, but lost to Stillman in the final. The 2 previous years, they won the regional.

“We have a legitimate chance to win the regional,” Larson said. “Our communication on the field is so much better.”

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