Led by the outstanding play of keeper Jonathan Morales, Southern Oregon has been the surprise of the Cascade Conference this season.

The Raiders continued their strong play on Friday, besting the Saints 3-1 in front of a small but vocal Nelson Stadium crowd.

Morales led the conference with a miniscule .380 goals against average, and he was perfect in a first half in which Carroll just couldn’t seem to get the offense on track.

Things got off to a rough start for the Saints, with Southern Oregon (9-2-2 overall, 7-1-2 in Cascade) piping in a pair of goals in the first 15 minutes. The first was from the team’s top offensive threat, Carlos Magana, who scored unassisted at 8:06, finishing between keeper Berhardt DeCino’s legs. The second goal was by Dakota Scott, who redirected in a corner kick at 14:36.

“We had a couple of individual errors that cost us, marking-wise on the second goal,” coach Doug Mello said. “The first goal, kind of a goalkeeper judgement thing, where he came out and unfortunately left the goal unoccupied and the guy was able to just tip it in. We made a couple of crucial errors we just weren’t able to recover from.”

The Carroll defense largely locked down after that -- though Southern Oregon tacked on a third goal in the 60th minute on a sharp-angle shot. And while the (8-8, 6-5) dominated both possession and scoring chances the rest of the game, the hole was simply too deep.

They did, however, avoid the shutout with a fantastic goal by James Lamont. Just one minute after the Raiders’ third goal, Jonathan Taylor send the ball to the far side of the net. Jose Porras headed it back toward center, and Lamont then headed it top shelf to give the Saints a spark.

Lamont nearly turned that spark into a flame, taking a free kick from about 23 yards out and ringing it just high and wide, off the top-right corner five minutes later.

Another scoring chance forced a save two minutes later, and the trend continued to the final horn.

“They couldn’t even get out of our half,” Mello said. “If we could have just somehow managed to do that for longer than 45 minutes -- for maybe more like 80 or 90. We gave up a couple of weak goals and started chasing a lead, and it got tougher and tougher. They’re a good team, so they bunkered in. The second half, we picked it up but we just ran out of time.

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“I’ll ask the guys, ‘If we had 30 more minutes, 35 more minutes, how would we do?’ And they’ll say, ‘We’d win.’ And, well, we had that in the first half and we squandered it.

While the fifth-place Saints were unable to gain ground on the fourth-place Raiders, the team remains in the middle of the conference standings. And while it is frustrating that the team hasn’t put together a string of quality games, there’s still time ahead of the conference tournament to get on track with a pair of home games next week.

Carroll will host Multnomah at 4 p.m. Friday, and then take on Walla Walla University in the regular-season finale at 1 p.m. Sunday.

The Cascade Conference Tournament is slated for No. 4-7.

Troy Shockley is on Twitter @IR_TroyShockley and can be reached at troy.shockley@helenair.com.

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