For all of two minutes Tuesday, Palm Desert stood right there with La Quinta, equals in nearly every way. Hopes of knocking off the Desert Valley League’s leader were well intact. A chance to earn a critical league victory were still within reach.
And then, in one quick motion, all that positivity disappeared.
Notching a single goal in the opening minutes of the first half was enough to boost La Quinta’s momentum for the duration of the match. It all happened so fast.
For good measure, the Blackhawks added three additional goals in the first 64 minutes to take a four-goal lead in what would eventually be a decisive 4-1 victory.
“First of all, they’re our rivals, so just getting a victory over them makes it important,” said junior forward Jesus Avalos, who notched the first goal of the game just two minutes in. “And the fact that we were battling for first place makes it that much more important.”
La Quinta made a statement, and made it early.
On the attack, La Quinta (11-1-4, 5-1 DVL) forward Jason Ocampo dished the ball to Avalos who faked a shot to get the Palm Desert goalie out of position, missed the shot but managed to fire the ball back into the goal on the rebound.
The early deficit appeared to stun the Aztecs (9-7-3, 3-3), but they hung in there, shoring up the hole in the defense and generating shot opportunities of their own.
Fortunately for La Quinta goalie Aaron Martinez, few of them were close enough to give much of a scare.
“It was a big second half for us,” La Quinta head coach Gary Nadler said. “Much better than the first half. But give Palm Desert credit for that.”
Ultimately, La Quinta’s stars controlled the game. Avalos got the Blackhawks on the board early and Ocampo took it from there. He controlled the game from the middle of offense, distributing to teammates and scoring when given an opportunity.
After Daniel Alexander furthered La Quinta’s lead to 2-0 on a penalty shot six minutes into the second half, Ocampo then took over.
With Palm Desert goalie Chris Hernandez out of the game after is second yellow card, Ocampo scored two goals on sophomore Uriel Lopez and set up a number of other good looks.
The Blackhawks were without Avalos and Ocampo in their only loss of the season, against Coachella Valley. Though five players were scratched from the lineup Tuesday, La Quinta is finally getting some semblance of just how good they can be down the stretch.
“We’ve eliminated a lot of the problems that plagued us earlier in the year,” Nadler said. “We’re playing well and we’re playing together.”