Tucson High, playing in its first boys state soccer final, treated Saturday’s game as if it were the final of a holiday tournament.
With half the team comprised of sophomores, the players were loose, relaxed and opportunistic on their way to a 3-0 Division II championship victory over Glendale Copper Canyon on Saturday at Gilbert Campo Verde High School.
“We all played hard,” said Emilio Villatoro, who scored Tucson’s second goal 13 minutes into the game. “We’ve played hard all season. Today we did what it took.”
Tucson (24-0-3) didn’t lose a game in its move down from Division I, where playoff wins were scarce.
It hadn’t gotten past the first round at state since 2009, but this was a resilient team that relied on speed, defense and great goalkeeping from sophomore Anthony Siaha, who allowed only 13 goals all season.
Tucson won tournaments at Salpointe and Sabino this season, and things began to align “with very few goals against us,” coach Ismael Arce said.
Defense was the key.
Copper Canyon (20-3), also making its first trip to the final, had few solid looks at the goal.
Its best chance to score came with about 13 minutes to play, when Jonathan Felix Cortez blasted a shot from close range that sailed over the crossbar.
Seven minutes in, Giovanni Ahumada got free from about 18 yards away and nailed the ball into the corner of the net, giving Tucson a 1-0 lead.
Villatoro broke loose in the center of the field for his goal about 10 minutes later.
“The way they scored their goals has been the way they’ve been doing it,” said Copper Canyon coach Justin Bogus, whose team had allowed just five goals all year with Carlos Lopez in the net. “We didn’t win the second ball. They did a really good job capitalizing.”
With less than three minutes left, leading scorer Julian Gaona got loose, with Lopez coming out to meet him. It got physical, and Lopez was given a yellow card. Gaona converted the penalty kick for his 31st goal of the season to ice the win.
“The second half, they kind of got frustrated and it got a little more physical,” Arce said. “We were mentally ready. We were physically ready. It was just a matter of one more game.”