It was inevitable the playoff atmosphere was going to arrive the second the whistle blew on Tuesday when the Ellensburg High School boys soccer team took on East Valley High School in the first round at districts.

But, you could say the ambiance already arrived when the Bulldogs were facing loser-out games since they fell to Toppenish High School on April 20.

Ellensburg defeated Wapato High School and then Quincy High School in a gritty battle that gave both teams a spot in the four-way tie breaker for three playoff spots into districts. Ellensburg fell to Othello High School in the first game, but had another matchup with Quincy (who lost in a penalty shootout to East Valley) — and the Bulldogs won in a PK to earn a playoff bid.

Backs against the wall once again, the No. 5 seeded Bulldogs season continues with a 1-0 triumph over No. 6 seeded East Valley. Tizoc Barbosa had a score on a penalty kick in the 78th minute.

“This is our third game in the row now of win or go home, and the boys have responded to that challenge which is great,” head coach Mark Timko said. “I like how they responded to that challenge.”

Ellensburg (9-6, 5-4 CWAC) only had a couple shots at the goal in the first half and both were saved. East Valley (7-8, 5-4 CWAC) was limited as well. And for the most part of the second half, the narrative was the same.

But in the last 15-20 minutes, East Valley was putting pressure on the Ellensburg defense. After a header attempt just missed the top of the net, East Valley tried again, but Connor Timko made an important save to keep the score 0-0 in the 61st minute. Connor recorded two more saves after that — three for the game.

“… All season long we been talking about winning the moments in games,” Mark said. “And they can be winning a moment on the defensive end, winning a moment on the offensive end. He (Connor) made a great save. If that ball had gone in, they would have packed it in on defense and we would have not won the game. That’s just kind of how things go.

“He had a moment for us, Tizoc had a moment for us, and sometimes all it takes is a good offensive and a defensive moment.”

What led up to Barbosa’s PK was Miguel Baldovinos getting fouled in the penalty area in the 78th minute. Barbosa’s try went in the back of the net with ease as the ball went in the opposite direction of the goalie’s guess. And East Valley couldn’t assemble any late-game heroics with limited time remaining.

“We’ve had to win everything, but we know we can,” Ryan Stinson said. “We know every game we come in we have a chance.”

Ellensburg will vie against No. 2 seeded Selah High School (11-2, 8-1 CWAC) this Friday at 5 p.m. It won’t be a loser-out matchup, but the winner will advance to the district final. The loser will face Toppenish or Grandview High School and the winner of that game heads to a crossover game with the Great Northwest League.

Selah defeated the Bulldogs 1-0 the first time around.

“Last time we only lost 1-nil, and it was a close game so we know we can beat them,” Stinson said. “Same as always — we go in believing we can win.”

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