By Richard Smith
West Valley Preps
This one will sting for a while.
Ironwood soccer left Gilbert Campo Verde’s home field Thursday night believing it had outplayed the undefeated top seed in the 5A semifinal. The Eagles walked off with a sense of outrage at a late refereeing decision.
Ultimately the No. 4 seed departed with a 2-1 loss after two goals off senior Robert Delci’s throw ins for No. 1 Campo Verde (25-0), including the tiebreaker — a header by junior Blaise Hale with five minutes left.
“What we’re trying to do on those big throws is what happened, get the goalkeeper out of position. Their keeper came in and it sailed over his head and Blaise was waiting,” Campo Verde coach Andrew Guarneri said. “The flip side is we’re vulnerable to a counterattack on those. We sell out on them.”
Chaos reigned seven minutes before that. Ironwood freshman Gabriel Guerrero laid on the turf in a heap following a foul by Campo Verde junior Ethan Wilson.
Older brother Rogelio Guerrero was infuriated by the play, though it was difficult to see whether he was yelling at the officials or the Coyotes players. A few players nearly got into a scrap.
In addition to Wilson, the referee gave a red card and ejection to Rogelio Guerrero. Now, the Eagles had to play the final 12:46 without their sweeper and on-field leader.
Ironwood Coach Tim Beck declined to comment on the call after the game.
Before that foul and an ensuing five-minute stop in play Ironwood (16-6-1) was rolling. Senior Tyler Cudmore and Rogelio Guerrero had shots on goal.
And the Eagles cranked up the heat in the 59th minute. But junior Kenny Samatar and senior Carlos Avechuo could not get much power behind their shots. Avechuco’s trickled past goalkeeper Justin Zimmerman’s arms and wide.
“They’re a very technical team. The first time we played them (in a tournament) it was on a smaller field. Today they had more room to operate,” Coach Guarneri said. “Ironwood is the best team we’ve played this year. They had the better of it for most of the game. Sometimes to be undefeated, you have to get a bit of luck.”
Ironwood forced two corner kicks in the 63rd minute.
All that pressure paid off in the 66th as freshman Nate Guzman banged home a rebound to tie it at 1. Avechuco nearly gave the Eagles the lead a minute later but Zimmerman deflected his blast out of bounds.
“We outplayed them most of the night,” Beck said.
The red cards followed a minute later.
All the scoring and most of the action was in the second half. Campo Verde did not have much going before a bolt of lightning in the 45th minute gave the home team the lead.
Delci powered a throw from midfield to Hale, who was facing away from the goal. Hale flicked it over the top of his head onto the path of senior Johnny Halter’s run.
Halter buried his shot in the top right corner for the 1-0 lead.
“It’s an illegal throw. He lifts his leg every time as he’s throwing. Officials don’t know what to do so they let it go,” Coach Beck said.
The longtime Ironwood coach and his time arrived angry to begin with, as they were the only Arizona team playing a semifinal opponent on its home field. Coach Beck said he could not believe the AIA set up the brackets in this fashion.
Campo Verde will get, in essence, one more home game when it plays No. 3 Phoenix North Canyon for the state title Saturday.
Meanwhile, Ironwood must say goodbye to a nine-man senior class that truly came into its own in the last three weeks after a largely inconsistent season.
While the program is chock full of young talent and will enter next season with the potential to improve, Coach Beck said this team didn’t peak until recent weeks when the seniors realized their potential.
“They finally started realizing what we had been saying to them and it made us a better team. They played great tonight,” Coach Beck said.