Princeton junior Reiter Bird had 13 goals on the season heading into Saturday's Class 1A Stillman Valley Regional semifinal game against the Oregon Hawks.
Bird waited for the right time to have his first explosive game.
Bird posted his first hat trick of the season to lead the Tigers to a 4-1 victory and a spot in Tuesday's championship game against Monmouth-Roseville.
"It was 4-1, but I think it was a lot closer game than that," Princeton coach Jason Bird said. "It was a battle. We knew Oregon was going to be a good team. Our game plan was to try to get the ball through and let Reiter run on to it and see what he could do with it."
Bird's first goal came with less than five minutes off the clock.
Sophomore Jacob Fisher found a seam and fed the ball to the front of the net, and Bird one-timed the ball into the goal to give Princeton the early 1-0 lead.
"I tried to get through to shoot and score and give us the win," Bird said.
With 5:12 left in the opening half, Bird struck again, breaking away from the Oregon defenders and beating the goalie to find the net to increase the lead to 2-0. That would be the score at the half.
In the second half, Oregon senior Derrick Nelson was rewarded a penalty shot. He chose the right side to shoot the ball past the Tiger goalkeeper to narrow the gap 2-1 at the 19:02 mark.
Two minutes later, the Tigers (15-8-2) regained the two-goal cushion when sophomore midfielder Gabe Kelly got the ball on the rebound and found an empty spot in the goal.
To add insult to injury, Bird finalized his hat trick when senior Scott Roseberg fed him the ball and he easily juked the goalie for his third goal.
"We realized in the first half that when the guy in the middle would go in one direction they would shift hard and I would be open. And we told him just to look for that, and he saw that and sent the ball through," said Bird on Roseberg's assist.
In the last 10 minutes, the disheveled Oregon team started roughing it up and got a yellow card and then a red card.
"We told our kids at halftime that the pace was going to pick up and they would be a little more aggressive," Jason Bird said. "They were going to have to push. When you're down 2-0, you have to start pushing it. The season's over if you lose here."
The Hawks had one opportunity to cut into the lead early in the second half when freshman Tiger goalkeeper Nolan Piper used his hands out of the goalie box and Oregon was rewarded a shot from the side.
Piper had to sit one play out and Bird put on the goalie gloves to try and defend the shot. Unfortunately for the Hawks, the kick was air mailed out of bounds.
With the win the Tigers advance to the regional championship game against Monmouth-Roseville, which beat host Stillman Valley, 3-1.
The game will be held on Tuesday afternoon. Princeton met up with Monmouth-Roseville earlier this season and came home with a 1-0 victory.
Jeff Holman can be reached at 223-3200 ext 139 or at email@example.com.