Phoenix College eliminates Yavapai for 3rd straight year
PRESCOTT — Yavapai College’s stalwart men’s soccer program has officially entered uncharted territory.
For the third straight year on Thursday night, Oct. 27, the favored Roughriders were eliminated from the regional semifinals by Phoenix College.
In the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division I, Region I postseason tournament at Ken Lindley Field, the fifth-seeded Bears shut out the top-seeded and NJCAA No. 5-ranked Roughriders, 3-0.
With the upset, unranked Phoenix advances to the region championship match against No. 2-seed and NJCAA No. 10-ranked Pima this Saturday, Oct. 29, at a yet-to-be-determined time. The game will be played at Kino Stadium in Tucson.
In the region semis, the Bears eliminated Yavapai 2-1 in 2013 and 2-0 in 2014. But their win on Thursday was the most convincing.
“Year one, we were right here [at Lindley Field] and it was a great experience,” Phoenix coach David Cameron said. “But you have to get that first one out. And then we got the second. And then we got the third. So we had a lot of confidence coming in.”
Yavapai finished the season with an 18-3-0 overall record. Phoenix improved to 12-9-1. On Thursday, the Bears were led by Jossie Ortiz, who tallied a goal and an assist. Ben Fagan and Ryosuke Hirayama registered a goal apiece. Juan Hernandez had two assists.
“They were just quicker and stronger to the ball,” Yavapai coach Mike Pantalione said of the Bears. “That was the difference in the game.”
Phoenix led 1-0 at halftime on Fagan’s header in the box via a gorgeous lofted ball from Ortiz in the 37th minute. The Bears went up 2-0 in the 48th minute on yet another header in the box, this time by Ortiz. Then, the dagger came in the 83rd minute when Hirayama scored.
“They showed up to play and we didn’t,” Yavapai sophomore first team all-region defender Jacob Malach said. “You can’t really explain it. The past two years were unlucky. Today it seemed like they were the better team.”
The Bears’ back-line defense continually flustered Yavapai’s offense, which averaged about four goals a game in 2016.
“We didn’t work together in the attack as much as we should’ve,” Yavapai attacker Matthew Jordan said. “We were going too much one-on-one, and we really need to find the open guy. And it just didn’t happen and so we started getting flustered dribbling-wise and we just got tunnel vision.”
Phoenix was the only opponent to blank Yavapai in a game this season. On Sept. 6, the Bears and Roughriders finished in a scoreless double-overtime tie before Yavapai was awarded a 1-0 victory by forfeit. The Roughriders won the other meeting on Oct. 6 in Prescott, 2-0.
Phoenix, which had to forfeit its first seven matches this season due to an ineligible player, has now won 12 of its last 15 games.
The Bears have rebounded behind a deep, talented roster that has 15 sophomores on its 23-man unit. In contrast, the Roughriders fielded 25 freshmen on their 28-man squad.
“I’ve got seven, eight [NCAA-caliber] Division I guys on this team, and it’s a special group,” Cameron said.
Phoenix now has a chance to accomplish something it has failed to do in three previous attempts – win the region championship and advance to the West District playoffs Nov. 14 and 15. The district champion qualifies for nationals Nov. 14-19 in Tyler, Texas. Yavapai defeated the Bears, 2-1, for the region crown in 2013. Pima upended Phoenix in 2014 and 2015.
“Our defense is a lot stronger this year, especially with [region first-team defender] Danny Adoo back there, and our goalies,” Fagan said. “We’re tired of getting there and losing, so we don’t want that again.”
For the seven-time NJCAA Division I national champion Roughriders, it’s back to the drawing board. Since 1990, this is the first time that Yavapai hasn’t won the region in three consecutive years. The Roughriders were region titlists from 1990-98 and from 2000-09 – impressive feats in and of themselves.
“Just being together and working together [in the offseason], and knowing that we’ll be here next year, we’re going to want to go for it all,” Jordan said. “And as long as we do that in the off-season, we’ll do it.”