One down, two to go for Roughriders

The Daily Courier

The Yavapai College men’s soccer team is in The Final Four.

The Roughriders opened the 2005 NJCAA Tournament Thursday on the campus of Tyler Junior College in East Texas, and came away with a resounding 5-1 win in semifinal action.

With three first-half goals, YC downed Illinois Central to advance to today’s semifinal. The ‘Riders will meet Louisburg, N.C., which got past Illinois’ College of DuPage 3-0 in Thursday’s other quarterfinal.

Louisburg and Yavapai meet today (3 p.m. Arizona time) with matching 19-game winning streaks. On paper, the semifinal matchup figures to be a tougher challenge for the Roughriders.

Yavapai captured the program’s 75th overall playoff victory since 1990 with the rout of Illinois Central. Region 1 Player of the Year Obed Becerra scored two goals Thursday in a match in which YC was rarely tested.

“Our guys came out strong today and dominated the first half,” said Yavapai head coach Mike Pantalione, whose club out-shot IC 20-7. “They played very well resulting in three first-half goals.”

The match was so well in hand that all 23 players suited up got into the game for action. The team even subbed in three different goalkeepers; the first time in YC men’s soccer history a club has used three goalies in one game.

The plan, says Pantalione, was to save legs and freshness for all personnel with today’s tough match against Louisburg deciding which side advances to Sunday’s national championship.

With a kickoff scheduled for 3 p.m. today, the team plans to take things lightly in Tyler until game time.

“We have our day planned out according to preparation,” Pantalione said. “Some of our players will get treated by our athletic trainer, some have pool time for stretching and kicking in the pool.”

Thursday’s win over Illinois Central was Yavapai’s first match since clinching the West District Championship on Nov. 5. Even with the long time off, there were no signs of rust.

With “ideal” conditions at Tyler Junior College, Thursday’s match opened under sunny and clear skies and a temperature in the high 50s.

Sophomore defender Dan Lowe opened the scoring with a goal in the game’s 16th minute. Becerra and Lokahi Bounds also tallied first-half scores as YC assumed control of the match early.

Freshman attacker Rudy Duarte scored in the second half to pad the lead. Becerra added his second goal of the match in the 76th minute.

Yavapai meets a Louisburg team ranked No. 2 in the nation for much of the season, just ahead of the Roughriders who the pollsters slated No. 3 this fall.

Each side has won 19 straight matches. Louisburg remains the only men’s JUCO soccer team in the nation without a loss or tie on its record in 2005.

It will be the first-ever meeting between the two schools. It also marks the third straight playoff game (North Idaho, Illinois Central, Louisburg) that features an opponent the Roughrider program has never faced.

On the other side of Thursday’s quarterfinal bracket, No. 1-ranked Mercer County, N.J., the defending national champions, beat Jefferson College, Mo., 4-0. Georgia Perimeter handled San Jacinto, Texas, 3-1.

While Yavapai tangles with Louisburg in a promising semifinal matchup, the other side of the bracket features another dandy with Mercer County facing Georgia Perimeter.

Sunday’s national championship, featuring the two winners from today, has a scheduled start time of 1 p.m. Arizona time.