Sienna Higinbotham called it “a chemistry thing” and sort of like mind-reading.
She’s been playing for so long with fellow West Albany High senior Ahni Washburn that a simple move that opponents may or may not notice can give the Bulldogs a slight advantage.
A turn of Higinbotham’s head told Washburn where to make her out-of-bounds toss Wednesday night. Teammate Lily Ruiz drew defenders to herself, and Higinbotham got the ball and did the rest, dribbling to her left to gain an opening and firing away.
Higinbotham’s goal from about 10 yards out was the difference in West’s 1-0 win against visiting Springfield in an OSAA 5A girls soccer first-round game on the Memorial Stadium turf.
“Lily was in the mix with the two other defenders and the ball just came loose after the ricochet and, open space,” said Higinbotham, the Mid-Willamette Conference co-player of the year who plans to play at Oregon State next fall.
Higinbotham has competed with sisters Ahni and Chloe — who are actually part of triplets — for about six seasons in the past decade.
“Whenever I throw it in I kind of look to Sienna. We’ve know each other for a really long time so we just make eye contact,” Ahni Washburn said. “She’ll flick her head one direction and I’m like ‘ok, I’ll throw it that direction.’ She was there and I saw her running.”
It worked out again, and the third-seeded Bulldogs (11-2-2) will host conference rival Silverton (7-5-1) in a quarterfinal at noon Saturday. The Foxes won 1-0 at Ridgeview on Wednesday.
The West defense produced its 10th shutout of the season against 14th-seeded Springfield (5-8-2). Bulldog coach Erik Ihde said the Millers’ Midwestern League is “crazy deep” and that he knew to expect a challenge.
West turned away every threat the visitors had to offer.
“Our defense was so stout tonight. They’ve done that all year,” Ihde said. “I have to remind myself we had one returning outside defender from last year. As of this season it’s a brand-new squad and they play like veterans. They were so tough tonight.”
Chloe Washburn is the only returning defensive starter from last year, when the Bulldogs were third in the 6A Greater Valley Conference.
Kendall Walton, Sydney Beers, Megan Miller and Jayde Crowe were new starters, along with Cammie Lien in goal.
Chloe Washburn and junior forward Bethanie Marteeny joined Higinbotham on the all-conference first team. Miller and sophomore midfielder Morgan Linde made the second team.
Higinboth agreed with the idea that defense put her team over the top.
“One hundred percent. Chloe holds down the line back there,” she said.
Higinbotham’s goal came in the 23rd minute, after Springfield had held off a long stretch of pressure from West earlier in the game.
The Bulldogs stayed aggressive, but they also had to try to stay in front of a Miller offense that was capable of striking.
“There’s nothing more nerve-wracking than a one-goal lead. For sure, especially in the playoffs,” Ihde said.
West’s Megan Adamec nearly gave her team a quick second goal just a few minutes after Higinbotham scored. But her shot bounced away after clanging the underside of the crossbar.
Higinbotham put one off the bar on a free kick from about 45 yards in the 44th minute. Her teammates weren’t able to gather the rebound.
A few minutes later, Springfield turned up the pressure on the West defense. But the Bulldogs, with good passing and movement were able to get the ball out of their back end.
“We work on our communication. We always talk,” Chloe Washburn said. “We make sure that we switch our players. We communicate where the striker or other players are moving back and forth.”
The defense kept the number of shots Lien had to field to a minimum.
Lien said his team executed areas of the game that had been the focus of recent practices.
“I felt like we created a lot of opportunities tonight. We only finished one, but luckily we only needed one,” the coach said.
Now West gets Silverton, a team the Bulldogs defeated 2-1 on Oct. 10 on the Foxes’ grass field.
Chloe Washburn says she expects Silverton, which finished two spots behind West in the Mid-Willamette standings in fourth, to want revenge and to continue to play their physical style.
“One of our best battles games of the year was Silverton. It felt like a shootout,” Ihde said of the earlier matchup. “They’re a physical, physical team. We know they’re going to bring it.”