PRCA Soccer 1
Pusch Ridge Christian Academy senior and team co-captain Chelsea Ruland, left, fights for possession of the ball from a Safford Bulldog player during a game late last month. The Lions lost 1-0 to Goodyear Estrella Foothills in the state title game last weekend. Randy Metcalf/The Explorer

Last week, four Northwest area high school teams advanced as far as the final four in their soccer brackets, while two of them advanced to their state title games, before falling.

The No. 1-ranked Ironwood Ridge (23-4) girls advanced to the state title game for the first time ever, before losing to second-ranked Phoenix Pinnacle (18-0), by a final of 4-2. Morgan Sibson scored the Nighthawks’ first goal, but it wasn’t until the 60th minute, after the team had trailed 2-0 at halftime. But in many ways, the score was very misleading.

“We had four good scoring opportunities in the first half,” said Nighthawks coach Sean Watkins. “The first half was pretty wide open.”

Ironwood was credited with seven shots on goal, while Pinnacle managed five.

Breck Robinson’s goal with eight minutes left in regulation cut the deficit to 3-2. The Nighthawks had several great scoring opportunities. A corner kick to Camie Barbera’s head had a chance, but she missed it wide to the left of the net.

“We just couldn’t get it done,” Watkins said.

The final goal was a fluky, garbage-time goal by Pinnacle in the final few seconds.

“It’s the best game we’ve played all year,” Watkins said. “The girls left everything out on the field.

“Lauren Debeliso may have been our best player out there,” Watkins said. “Most of the players had their best game of the year.”

The Nighthawks qualified for the title game by virtue of defeating rival Mountain View earlier in the week, 3-2 in the semi-finals. The game, which was originally scheduled for the Phoenix area, was switched to Tucson High School.

During the regular season, the two teams competed for the region title, and Ironwood won in a ho-hum affair, 4-2. At Tucson High on Thursday, there was a lot more fire and intensity on both sides, as would be expected in a semi-final playoff game between two geographic rivals. This time, it took double overtime before the Nighthawks prevailed 3-2.

“It took nearly 100 minutes to decide the outcome,” Watkins said. Ironwood’s Kaitlyn Lopez broke the tie with a goal in the 97th minute. Lopez scored two goals, while Madi Kinzer added another. Camie Barbera had two assists for the Nighthawks.

“Lopez and Camie are a handful for any team to deal with,” Watkins said. “Both teams were fired up.”

Lopez scored with just 18 seconds left in the first half to tie it at 1-1.

“We told the girls we didn’t want to be down at halftime,” Watkins said.

Sophomore Justene Kesterson kept the pressure on with one goal and an assist for Mountain View. In the 68th minute, Kesterson assisted Ashley Estrada for the tying goal, which ultimately forced the overtimes.

For the top-seeded Pusch Ridge girls, there was no disgrace in losing 1-0 to Goodyear Estrella Foothills in the state title game. Estrella Foothills captured its third consecutive state title. For the Lions, it was the team’s inaugural trip to the title game. Foothills scored the game’s only goal in the 36th minute.

“It was a good game,” said Pusch Ridge coach Juan Bortfeld. “The result itself showed that both teams belonged in the title game.

“Knowing that we have the talent is disappointing. We came out a little flat.”

Chelsea Ruland, the leading scorer in Southern Arizona, was shut out.

On a team that gave up very few goals during the season, Bortfeld had kudos for his team.

“The entire team has really stepped up,” Bortfeld said. “Sarah MacDonald is a smart player. Brennan Smith is a co-captain that’s anchored our defense.”

Bortfeld also was very impressed with Caroline Herrera and Stephanie Smith. Anna Jacob finished second on the team in scoring behind Ruland.

The Pusch Ridge boys season ended with a semi-final loss to eventual champion, Northwest Christian, 4-0.

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