By Ben • Ben Schorzman • 

League champs prep for Roseburg

When the No. 4-ranked McMinnville boys soccer team lost Oct. 17 at Tualatin, players thought they had blown their chance of winning a fourth straight Pacific Conference championship. The loss stung, junior Moises Diaz said, but the Grizzlies got back to work and closed out the regular season with two dominating wins, finishing with an 11-2-1 record, a No. 1 seed in the 6A state playoffs and a home playoff match at 7 p.m. Saturday vs. Roseburg.

McMinnville also finished 6-1 in the conference and tied with Tualatin (9-2-3). Grizzlies interim coach Jeff Autencio said he had been led to believe since the tiebreaker was held by the Timberwolves, they would be the conference champions, but Autencio was told Monday at a league meeting that the Grizzlies, were in fact, conference champions along with Tualatin, and both programs were given trophies.

“No one knew,” Autencio said. “I came back from the meeting Monday night, had a backpack on, and said I had to show them something, and I pulled it out and they all busted into a clap.

“It was actually pretty cool. It was neat. That’s four years in a row now for Mac.”

Diaz, who played some varsity as a freshman, said Autencio’s surprise cheered the players up.

“We didn’t expect it,” Diaz said. “Not a lot of people expected that from us. It was great to get it this year.

Even Autencio said he didn’t picture this at the start of the season.

“I don’t think if you go back to the end of August,” Autencio said, “if you would have told me we would have been sitting here at 11-2 and hosting a playoff game and winning the league title, I would have thought you’re crazy.

“I knew there was talent. I’ve known 90 percent of this group since they were little kids, but it was having them putting it together and having them believe they could do it. That was something that remained to be seen. And, they’ve done it.”

The Grizzlies now turn their attention to a bigger prize, and their first opponent is Roseburg (5-9). The Indians finished fourth in the Southern Conference and beat Newberg 3-2 in the play-in round Tuesday on penalty kicks.

Autencio said the Grizzlies can’t play expecting Sprague to be bad.

“When it gets to this point, it doesn’t matter what it is, you have to play,” Autencio said. “Everything is about focus.”

“We have to come out hard either way,” Diaz said. “We can’t just come out and think we’re going to win. Anything can happen.”

The playoffs will be a new experience for some of the Grizzlies. The entire defense is made up of players from the 2011 junior varsity, Autencio said, but there are enough veterans like Nicholas Autencio and Diaz to even the nerves out. There are six players on the 2012 roster that played last season when the Grizzlies made it to the semifinals vs. Westview.

“I’m sure there are kids out there who will be nervous,” Autencio said. “Have they played in big games this year? No question. Have they played in a playoff game? No.”

Diaz boiled the difference between the playoffs and the regular season down to the basics.

“If you lose a game during league it doesn’t mean a lot,” he said. “You can get back and work harder. If you lose in the playoffs, you’re done.”

That’s why players were out well before the start of practice Tuesday, doing sprints on the track at Wortman Stadium and countless sit-ups. Winning a conference championship was only one goal. They want to their season to go on for a while.

“The players said they have another goal in mind, and that’s what they should have,” Autencio said. “You have to dream big. If things work your way, you just keep plugging away and hopefully you get there.”

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