Entering the homestretch of the regular season, the defending Mountain Valley Conference champions and state runners-up were not where they wanted to be. Rather, they were in a funk.
All Summit had known since joining Class 6A and playing in the MVC was winning, having an unblemished record through eight conference games dating back to last season.
That was until the Storm suffered their first conference loss, a 1-0 shutout at McNary on Oct. 4, followed by a 2-2 draw three days later at McKay.
The Storm (7-2-2, 2-1-1 MVC) returned to form Tuesday afternoon with a 3-0 shutout of Sprague (4-5-3, 2-2) at Summit High School.
“After our last two games where we lost and tied, they were rough games on the road. So this was a big win to get back into rhythm,” said Summit junior midfielder Kaden Barker, who scored two of his team’s goals in the slump-ending win.
With the conclusion of the regular season fewer than 10 days away and four MVC teams with one or fewer conference losses, wins are at a premium with the league title and state playoff seeding up for grabs.
“We know that we’ve underachieved this year,” said Summit coach Rod Kidder. “We had two difficult results in Salem so we are getting into the must-win position of the season. Wins are huge, and this one was a very important win.”
The same demon that had plagued the Storm during the winless streak — the inability to convert scoring chances — reappeared in the first half of Tuesday’s match.
Summit set up camp in the attacking third and peppered the goal with shot attempts, none of them finding the back of the net in the first 30 minutes. Some shots were saved by Sprague’s Brody Whetzel, others were denied when a defender was able throw his body in front of the goal, and even the crossbar made a couple of saves to keep Summit from breaking through.
“That’s been similar to many games that we’ve had this year. We are in the attacking third and we are creating goal-scoring opportunities but we just aren’t converting them,” Kidder said. “That can be frustrating at times. That’s been a pattern that has occurred in multiple games this year.”
Kidder also said that missed opportunities generate confidence for the defense while creating anxiety for the offense, which can be felt throughout the entire team.
“It gets nerve-wracking,” Barker said. “You get into the last 10 minutes of the first half and it’s still 0-0, you know you’ve gotten your chances but they can get a counterattack at any point to score.”
Summit finally broke through with less than 10 minutes before the half when Barker tapped in a cross from junior midfielder Simon Grube to break the scoreless tie.
“As soon as you get that first goal, things become much easier,” Kidder said. “Getting that first goal is incredibly important.”
Barker was not done. He added his second goal early in the second half off a slip pass from senior midfielder Lucas Morais, which Barker placed low inside the far post.
Senior midfielder Jack Cauble put on the finishing touch with a goal in the 72nd minute.
With Summit dominating possession, it was a relatively light game for senior goalkeeper Khael Engleman, who kept the Olympians out of the net with difficult saves on the few counterattacks the visitors mounted.
“I just stay composed, stay centered and watch the ball,” said Engleman, who helped Summit earn its sixth shutout of the season. “They were a quick team up top and they were beating us a couple times so I kept them out the best I could.”
With a second straight MVC title still in play, the Storm close their regular season with a pair of teams they are currently chasing in the standings: a home match against South Salem (7-3-1, 3-1) on Friday and a road match against MVC-leading West Salem (8-3, 4-0) on Oct. 25. Between those matches is a rivalry game at home against Mountain View (2-7-2, 0-4) next Tuesday.
“It was a rough two games, we could have won both those games by a margin,” Engleman said. “I think we could have won (against Sprague) by more of a margin than we did. But a win’s a win, so that’s good. We definitely need to focus moving forward, but I think we are a contender if we do.”
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