SILVERDALE — The Cougars took the field in their shiny, brand new athletic complex with a critical match ahead of them. A win would make their road through the playoffs markedly easier, but they’d have to get by a tough Kelso team to do it.
Paris Agana’s eighth minute goal and a stingy defense, which held the Highlanders off the board, were the key to victory as Central Kitsap (11-3-3) prevailed, 1-0, advancing to the Class 3A state tournament for the first time since 2016.
The Cougars still have two more matches to go in the district tournament, but now they are playing for seeding and a chance to host at least one state home game.
Agana, who nearly capitalized on a golden opportunity in the match’s opening minutes, took a terrific feed from Marielle Arnold and sent a missile on goal that caught the Kelso keeper off-guard. Agana wasn’t sure at first if the ball was going to hit the back of the net, but the keeper wasn’t able to recover and it rippled the netting for a goal.
“It was going higher than I expected and it wasn’t going into her hands,” Agana said.
Ella Smith had a whale of a game up front for Central Kitsap and she had the best opportunity to score a second goal, firing a shot that surely would have beaten the keeper off the crossbar. Smith was at the center of just about every offensive opportunity the Cougars had.
Though happy with the win, the team and coaching staff felt they could have put away a couple more goals and strengthened their lead.
“We didn’t finish the opportunities that were given to us in the first half,” said head coach Keith Sargent. “We have to be able to do that.”
Instead, the Cougars had to defend a one-goal lead for 72 minutes, an arduous task in a district playoff game. But the defense, led by the speed and skill of defender Madisyn Diabo, who made several terrific plays in her own half, kept the door shut.
“I know they’ll go all out,” Agana said. “I can count on my defensive line to do really well.”
The Highlanders really picked up their game in the last 15 minutes as Central Kitsap desperately tried to run out the clock. After being held without a shot in the first half, they threatened quite a few times, but weren’t able to get too many clean looks. And when they did, keeper Kiley Hall was there to make the stop.
Central Kitsap’s next match is at 7 p.m on Nov. 7 against Bonney Lake. The winner moves on to the district championship and the loser plays in the third/fourth place match.
“At the end of the day, it’s a win and we’re in state,” Sargent said. “That’s what matters.”
— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MKrulishKDN.