Maybe Decatur boys soccer facing Battle Ground High School in the first round of the West Central District wasn’t luck at all.
“Battle” is what the Gators have done all season.
They’ve fought for respect from the other programs in the North Puget Sound League, their own classmates even. They fought for all 80 minutes of 10 regular season wins.
They fought through the loss of a coach and a leukemia diagnosis to their most beloved teammate.
The Decatur Golden Gators channeled all of it during their 3-1 win over the Battle Ground Tigers on Thursday at Tahoma High School in the first round of the 4A West Central/Southwest bidistrict tournament.
Decatur officially moves on to a state tournament berth, its first since 2011. The Gators haven’t made a playoff appearance since 2013-14.
After the match, Gators captain Angel Trejo-Delago had trouble finding the words and fighting back tears to describe just how hard his team has fought for the win over Battle Ground.
“Last time we were here we lost 9-0,” an emotional Trejo-Delgado said. “We’ve fought for a second chance ever since. We had so much to fight for in this one. There was [Sean] Smith, [Jose] Barbosa. We couldn’t lose this for them. They’ve given up so much. Now we’re going to state. It’s indescribable.”
Before the match, Decatur (11-3-2) soccer coach Brad Plemons was unusually upbeat.
And he made a declaration: “Watch out for these reserves,” Plemons said. “Look out for them today.”
With that said, it was reserves Dennis Kozorezov and Jacob Buchan that put the match in the win column for Decatur.
The Gators didn’t wait long either.
They were awarded a corner kick in the fourth minute, and Juan Iribe was asked to send it in. Iribe put a perfect touch on the kick and Kozorezov rose above three Tiger defenders, headed the ball on the left side into the net for the 1-0 lead.
“We’ve ran that set piece a number of times this year,” Kozorezov said. “That one’s all coach Plemons. We’ve had it planned out and it finally happened for us.”
It took just 19 minutes for Decatur to make it 2-0.
Trejo-Delgado controlled possession at the 45-yard line when he sent a lofty flick into the box.
Freshman midfielder Jacob Buchan saw as defenders drew to the Decatur captain, and he made his run into box. The ball and Buchan’s head met at the right moment and Buchan put the ball past Battle Ground goalkeeper Taun Roadifer.
“I told these guys they were going to have opportunities in this one,” Plemons said. “And when that opportunity rises, you need to be able to step up and play the game I know they can play.”
When Decatur forward Jorge Figueroa made it 3-1 in the 71st minute off an unassisted run from 25, the Gators side couldn’t hold it in anymore.
Reserves began jumping, cheering and chanting, “We’re going to state” – the four words Smith preached to seniors Trejo-Delgado, Barbosa, Marcos Santos, Misael Alfaro and Kevin Kim four years ago.
Decatur is going to state.
They’re going as a team, but they’re not going for themselves.
They’re going for Smith, the one man who told them they could. They’re going for the Decatur students and staff who have finally caught wind of its success.
And they’re doing it for Barbosa.
His treatment will force him to miss the state tournament. Players and coaches have known for about a week that would be a possibility.
But, just as they’ve done all season, the Gators will battle.
Decatur will fight until there’s nothing left to fight.
“We fought and played our hearts out,” Barbosa said. “We did what we’ve had to do all year, left it all on the field. We’re a family, and we play every game like it’s our last.”
The Gators will play their next bidistrict tournament game at 6 p.m., Saturday, May 13 against the Tahoma Bears at Tahoma High School, 18200 SE 240th St. in Covington.