ELLIOTT: Cardinal men still in the NWAC fight

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The North Idaho College men’s soccer team is heating up at the right time of the season.

Which is a good thing for the Cardinals, because a setback is something the team can’t afford now.

ON THE heels of four straight wins, NIC has put itself in the Northwest Athletic Conference playoff mix in the East Region with two matches remaining.

NIC (6-6-2, 5-3-2 NWAC, 17 points) enters today’s match at Walla Walla four points behind the Warriors (10-4-0, 7-3-0, 21 points). The Cardinals visit the Community Colleges of Spokane next Wednesday to conclude the regular season. Spokane (11-2-2, 8-1-1, 25 points) is the only team in the East to secure a playoff spot.

The top three teams from each region advance to the NWAC tournament starting on Nov. 1. NIC’s women have locked up a playoff spot and likewise, play at Walla Walla today and conclude the season at Spokane next Wednesday.

Wednesday’s 2-1 win for the men over Columbia Basin College (9-2-1, 7-2-1, 22 points) of Pasco, Wash., might have been the biggest one of the bunch.

“It was a really tight, intense game,” NIC men’s soccer coach Ken Thompson said. “(NIC goalkeeper) Luis (Hernandez) seemed like he made four saves on one play and kept deflecting the ball and trying to get a foot on it. He was out of position on a few of the plays, and found a way to keep it out of the net. He’s had some games like that this season and had some huge saves. He’s just has a fighting spirit and he’s really athletic.”

Thompson also pointed to another goal, by Omar Hernandez, to cap the scoring on a free kick putback in the 87th minute.

“Omar is 5-foot-7, and I don’t know how he got up in front of everyone to play the ball,” Thompson said. “He’s scored three goals this year, and all of them have been dramatic, impressive goals.”

NIC ALSO benefited from a late-season bye due to Yakima Valley not having a men’s program.

It was the first time since Sept. 8-9 the team didn’t have a weekend match, and play at least three times in a week. NIC didn’t schedule it that way on purpose, but those early season wildfires forced that upon them.

“And we needed that rest,” Thompson said. “Everyone else played on Saturday and we used 14 guys (in Wednesday’s match against Columbia Basin), and really just let the starters go longer.”

Walla Walla travels to Columbia Basin next Wednesday to conclude the regular season.

“Our job is to win out and hope for something to happen over the next few days,” Thompson said.

Jason Elliott is a sports writer for the Coeur d’Alene Press. He can be reached by telephone at (208) 664-8176, Ext. 2020 or via email at jelliott@cdapress.com. Follow him on Twitter @JECdAPress.

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