The ghosts of the past were hanging over both the boys’ and girls’ 6A high school soccer championships. Two of the four teams playing Saturday in the finals were stopped just short of a state title last year and both wanted desperately to bury that heartbreak with a win – and the trophy – this time.
Gilbert High School, which played in last year’s boys’ title game but lost to Hamilton High, squeezed out a 1-0 win over Tolleson High in this year’s finals to bring home its first outright 6A state championship in the sport. The Tigers shared the title with Salpointe Catholic back in 2004.
Earlier in the day, Xavier College Prep stunned Desert Vista High School with a 2-0 victory in the girls’ championship game that avenged last year’s loss to the Thunder in the state semifinals – when the Gators were the No. 1 seed. DV had recorded 20 shutouts this season and held its previous seven opponents going into the title game scoreless.
Xavier warmed up for Desert Vista by shutting out Perry High, 2-0, in the semis. Perry had been an offensive juggernaut, averaging almost six goals a game throughout the season to compile a 21-win season.
A meeting between Xavier and Desert Vista on Jan. 23 gave little insight into what was to come when they met again in the finals. In that earlier game, the teams played to a 1-1 tie after two overtime periods.
But on Saturday, the Gators (17-1-3) got started after halftime on a goal from senior forward/midfielder Quiqui Hita in the 47th minute, her 11th goal of the season to finish the year as the team’s second-highest scorer. The team leader in that category, Kyla Ferry, provided the insurance goal 10 minutes later to bring her season totals to 20 goals and 47 points this season.
In the boys’ championship game, it took a single goal by senior forward Danny Baca in the final minutes, combined with a stiff defense that protected the lead, to clean out the old memories from last year’s title-game loss.
Baca also scored a couple of goals in the Tigers’ 4-3 double-overtime win over Hamilton in the semifinal game. Combined with his game-winner in the title game, that brought his season total to 37 goals and 85 points.
After a season-opening loss to Brophy Prep, which went into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed, Gilbert’s only other loss in an 18-2-1 season came at the hands of Campo Verde High School, a double-overtime game at the end of December that ended 4-2. Since that game, the Tigers won 11 straight, right through the playoffs, to close out the season.
Tolleson was a No. 5 seed in the playoffs, despite going through the regular season with just one loss.
The Wolverines showed why that seeding should perhaps have been a little higher by stunning top-seeded Brophy on the way to playing for this year’s title.