TOPPENISH — If you’d of said on the first day of practice that the Ellensburg High School boys soccer season would end in the Elite Eight of the 2A state tournament, there might have been a few Christmas Day smiles and a couple of “yeah rights.”

“I probably wouldn’t have believed you, but I’m so happy for this team,” said senior goalkeeper Connor Timko, who saw his season end on this very same Toppenish field in the CWAC District tournament with an quad strain. “I’ve been playing with the seniors on this team since I we were 8 or 9. It’s been quite a run.”

The Bulldogs (12-7) became the first Ellensburg team since 2011 and just the second team since 1986 to qualify for the 2A state tournament, but their magical run came to an end on Saturday afternoon when they lost to Toppenish (15-3-1) for the fourth time this season, 2-nil.

It would have taken a USA vs. the-Soviet-hockey-machine like effort, but stranger things have happened on the way to the championship. The Bulldogs had just two shots on goal, but played bonzer defense against a Wildcat offense clearly on top of it game. But in the end, Toppenish would convert two of its 18 shots on goal.

“I thought the defensive effort was exceptional considering the pressure we were under, especially in the second half,” Bulldog defender Nils Melbourne said. “We went to double overtime with them in the district championship and that proved we can play with them. But they were clearly the better team today.”

Said Joahan Baldovinos, “We switched tactics in the second half. We were trying to control the ball when they pushed into our zone, but we got away from that and started clearing it to get it away (and try to take some of the pressure off of the goalkeepers).”

Like he has since taking over for his brother Connor three games ago, Riley Timko started in net for the Bulldogs, finishing up with five saves in 60 minutes of work. Senior Dominick Woolsey, who hadn’t played a varsity minute until the state play-in game when he came off the bench and made a huge save in the shootout to lead Ellensburg into the 2A state bracket, was in net the second half of the Elite Eight game. He wrapped up his high school career with four the Ellensburg’s nine saves.

“It was intense,” he said with a wouldn’t-have-missed-it-for-the-world smile. “It was pretty nerve racking, especially when I had to make that diving stop five seconds after I stepped in.”

Toppenish senior Moises Mancillas buried the first goal with a big league, big league right-footer from 30 yards out to make it 1-nil 10 minutes into the match, But despite touch-and-turn precision from the Wildcats that made every run up the field with confidence, the Bulldogs held their own until right before the intermission when letdown and Andre Cortez slipped one in with 20 seconds remaining in the first half.

Ellensburg coach Mark Timko just hung his head in disbelief, knowing one goal down to the Wildcats was one thing, two down was another story.

“I told the kids before we even started today, that if we won by 50 or got beat by 50, I couldn’t be more proud of them and their season than I already am,” the head coach said. “Toppenish was clearly the better team and will represent the CWAC well in the Final Four. We’ll go over and watch and cheer them on and hope they bring the state championship back to our side of the Cascades.”

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