Gig Harbor High School junior forward Nick Lavinder had never scored a goal for the varsity team before Tuesday night’s Class 3A state tournament opening round game against Interlake. So when Lavinder, who has swung up from the junior varsity squad a few times throughout the season, netted a goal to give the Tides a 2-0 lead in the first half, he knew this one was a little different.
“It’s off the bucket list,” Lavinder said. “I never get excited for goals. Throughout my career, it’s just a job that I felt I had to get done whenever I play forward or outside. To get it in a big setting like this is just really special to me. I’ll remember this.”
That 2-0 lead came in the 35th minute and the lead was enough for the hosts at Roy Anderson Field, as Gig Harbor held on to win over Interlake, 2-1, to advance to the state quarterfinals.
Lavinder’s goal came on the end of a corner kick that took a fortunate second bounce, and found Lavinder, waiting, in perfect position.
“Based off the cross that came in, the way I was positioned, I anticipated it would kind of bounce around in there,” Lavinder said. “I tried to set myself up for a second ball bounce to finish it. Luckily, I was there at the right place, right time to finish it.”
Gig Harbor coach Joe Ross put Lavinder on, with a feeling his instincts as a forward might pay off for Gig Harbor. That hunch proved correct.
“Nick is a true forward,” Ross said. “He knew to play with his back to the goal, how to time the runs. It was just one of those tactical moves because we were possessing the ball, making good opportunities.”
The first goal came in the 24th minute. Senior Max Frank was a nightmare matchup for Interlake on the flank throughout the entire game. On this play, he beat his defender, and crossed a perfectly weighted ball in front of the face of goal, where teammate Jacob Cronk was waiting for a simple tap-in. For Cronk, a junior, it was his second big goal in less than a week, after netting the game-winner against Hudson’s Bay to send the Tides to state.
Jumping out to a 2-0 lead is generally a recipe for success in soccer. That was the case for the Tides on Tuesday night. After trailing 2-0 in two separate games in the past two weeks (before coming back to win both games, 3-2), Gig Harbor’s players didn’t want to dig another hole for themselves to have to climb out of.
So the Tides came out with energy and fire, winning 50/50 balls and playing with physicality.
“We wanted to send a message to everyone else in the tournament that we’re a legitimate contender for the title this year,” said sophomore left back Nate Jones, who stifled Interlake’s attack throughout the game.
Gig Harbor nearly recorded a clean sheet, but Interlake spoiled the party with a goal in the 75th minute from junior Cameron Rao. For the most part though, Gig Harbor closed down on Interlake’s forwards and midfielders. Gig Harbor defensive midfielder Cole Dimatteo was an eraser in the defensive midfielder for Gig Harbor, taking away much of what Interlake wanted to do with its central attack.
Outside of the final few minutes, when Interlake was sending its entire team forward in hopes of finding an equalizer, Gig Harbor bottled up the Interlake attack successfully the entire game.
“We were trying to limit their attack in general,” Jones said. “We knew they were a good attacking team, so we wanted to take less touches, get the ball out, play on the outsides. We were able to suppress their attack.”
Ross was thrilled with how the defensive midfield and back line executed the gameplan.
“The back line stepped up,” Ross said. “(Interlake) is a really talented team. I’m extremely proud of (my team). We were able to dig in, hold our own and then adjust to them coming at us. When you have four attackers coming at you, that’s where the communication piece that we’ve been trying to work on really came into play.”
Gig Harbor will hope that communication remains strong, when it faces the winner of the Squalicum/Garfield opening round matchup in the quarterfinals on the road. The date and time have yet to be determined, but will likely be either Friday or Saturday.