INCLINE VILLAGE — Adrian Ortega was due.
Whittell goalie Aubrey Felton had denied the North Tahoe senior forward on multiple occasions in Friday’s Northern Division III regional semifinal, which entered a second overtime period with both teams knotted at 1.
After more than 100 minutes of hard-fought soccer, however, Ortega sent a high-arcing free kick from 35 yards out that glided just under the crossbar and off the fingertips of the leaping Felton.
North Tahoe escaped with a 2-1 win.
“When it went in the air I said, ‘That’s going in,’” Ortega said of his dramatic goal.
Whittell junior Bryce Bronken gave the Warriors an early 1-0 lead when he blasted a left-footed shot into the back of the net from near the top of the box in the 10th minute.
After many fine goal-saving blocks by both goalies, Felton and the Lakers’ Omar Vargas, the Lakers increasingly began attacking the Warriors’ goal as the second half wore down — in part because the Warriors lost one of their most skilled players, R.J. Rupp, to a red card..
Finally in the 70th minute, Chase Whitney placed a through ball to the feet of senior forward Wildon DesLauriers, who gathered it and kicked in the tying goal.
North Tahoe senior Jose Chavez nearly scored the winning goal in the final minutes, but Felton gobbled up the open shot attempt to preserve the tie.
The Warriors, too, almost ended the contest in the final minute of the first overtime period, but their open shot attempt sailed wide left.
About six minutes into the second 15-minute overtime period, North Tahoe sophomore Angel Lopez was tripped after dishing off a pass, awarding Ortega his winning free kick.
“We were ready to play,” North Tahoe coach Beto Alcaraz said. “We had a nice week of practice and the boys were really into it and working hard. The way we came back today, I’m very proud.”
The heart-breaker goal sends the third-seeded Lakers to the regional final Saturday at 4 p.m. to face top-seeded Incline, a 3-0 winner over White Pine on Friday.
Whittell, seeded No. 2, will face fourth-seeded White Pine in the consolation final Saturday at noon. Winner of that game will earn the third state championship seed. North Tahoe and Incline have secured state berths.
On the girls’ side of the bracket, second-seeded host Incline defeated third-seeded North Tahoe 2-0 in their semifinal, while top-seeded Whittell defeated fourth-seeded White Pine 3-0.
The North Tahoe girls will take on White Pine in a consolation final Saturday at 10 a.m. Whittell and Incline will square off in the regional final Saturday at 2 p.m.