Gilbert senior Danny Baca usually puts away penalty kicks with ease.
But after Tolleson goalkeeper Alan Cazares made a diving save of Baca’s PK about three minutes into the second half, it drove him to finish the job.
With time running out, Baca broke free behind Tolleson’s fast defenders and chipped a shot just over Cazares with 6:22 to play for the game’s only goal.
Gilbert, down a man for about the final 48 minutes, held on for a 1-0 victory, giving the school its first outright 6A Conference boys soccer state championship on Saturday at Gilbert Campo Verde.
“I saw (Cazares) come out, and I got a chip over the top,” Baca said. “We got the win. That’s all that matters. We’re the state champions.”
Baca’s 37th goal of the season erased memories of last season when Gilbert lost the lead to Chandler Hamilton in the final nine minutes of the state final.
“He has scored in every big game,” said coach Jeff Perry, who also led Gilbert in 2004, when it tied Tucson Salpointe Catholic for a share of the state title. “He’s been rock solid.”
Baca couldn’t believe he missed the PK early in the half. But he was going up against one of the state’s best goalies, who made a great play to stop it.
“The PK I missed, I hadn’t really missed any all season,” he said. “But we kept grinding, and we ended up getting the win.”
A red card gave Gilbert (16-2-2) just 10 players to Tolleson’s 11 with about eight minutes left in the first half.
“You tell the guys how to be successful and it worked out,” Perry said.
Fifth-seed Tolleson (21-1), losing its only match this season, came through a difficult bracket, knocking off top-seed Phoenix Brophy Prep in the semifinals for the first time since 1988. It had scored a 6A-best 112 goals this season.
But junior Noah Rivera was clutch in the goal for Gilbert.
He made a brilliant save about eight minutes into the second half, and another a minute later.
Ten minutes later, it appeared Tolleson would strike first, but Miguel Vasquez’s blast was saved by Rivera.
“We had to keep the ball on the ground, because with their height, if keep the ball in the air, they’re going to get it every time,” Tolleson coach Ben Andronic said. “We started to pass it. We had a good 20 to 30 minutes there. That’s what happens in soccer. If you don’t take your chances, it’s going to come back to bite you.
“Hats off to them for weathering the storm. Being with a man down, that’s all you can do. They played their game plan. They stood strong. Their goalie came up with some really key saves. That hurt us.”
Baca was relieved afterward.
“Being that close last year, it’s relieving,” he said.