It didn’t take Palo Verde boys soccer coach Kevin Hagood long to figure out Friday’s Division I state semifinal against Wooster would come down to whichever team got a break.
Eli Ruffer made sure it was the Panthers.
Ruffer scored in the final five minutes of each half to lead the Panthers to a 2-0 win over the Colts at Carson High School. Palo Verde (20-0-1) will face Eldorado (20-0-2) in the final at 1 p.m. today. The Sundevils defeated Spanish Springs, 2-0.
The appearance in the state tournament is Palo Verde’s first.
“We came in here not knowing what competition we were going to face, but we came out here with heart and we want the title,” Ruffer said.
Ruffer drove home the first goal off a pass from Dylan Obata in the 35th minute to break a scoreless tie in a game that featured back-and-forth action.
“Within the first 20 minutes, my assistants and I said these are two similar teams and it’s going to be a chess match, and the lucky opportunities,” Hagood said. “Things just went our way, and I’m very, very proud of a bunch of boys who worked their tails off this year.”
Wooster kept the pressure on throughout the second half and narrowly missed a tying chance when a hard shot hit the upper left corner of the goal and bounded away.
In the 76th minute, Ruffer juked a defender with a stutter-step move to the left of the goal and buried it in the back of the net to seal the game.
“He’s such a great ball-handler, and it’s like watching silk out there on the field when he moves the ball the way he does,” Hagood said. “They were all over (Nolan) Sherwood, but they didn’t realize we had weapons in other areas.”
In the other semifinal, Eldorado built a first-half lead and played what coach Gerald Pentsil thought was an unimpressive second half but held off Spanish Springs.
The Sundevils went to the break with a 2-0 lead after a dominant first half, but Pentsil said they stopped attacking and were just trying to hold on in the final 40 minutes.
“The second half wasn’t pretty,” Pentsil said. “I think we stayed up too late or something.”
Andres Lua’s rebound goal in the 17th minute, and Edgar Duran’s tally two minutes later accounted for the scoring.
In the second half, though, Pentsil said the Sundevils (20-0-2) got caught up playing Spanish Springs’ game.
“We did enough in the first half to win, but I didn’t like the second half where we were just playing to hold on,” Pentsil said. “We need to play our game more. Once we got this game under our belt, hopefully we’ll play a little better tomorrow.”
Tech’s boys are still looking for the first official goal of the state tournament. Fortunately for the Roadrunners, they’ll get another shot at scoring today.
Playing without two of its top three scorers, Tech managed a 0-0, double-overtime tie against Sparks, but advanced to the final by outscoring the Railroaders 4-2 in a penalty-kick shootout in a semifinal at Dayton.
“It was a big loss,” Tech coach Josh Jones said of his team playing without Derian Salcido and Hugo Flores, who each received a red card in the Southern Region final. “We needed to have other guys step up.”
Tech (18-5-4) face Sunrise Mountain (11-5-2) in the final at 1 p.m. today. The Miners defeated Truckee 2-1.
The Roadrunners controlled play throughout much of the second half and the overtimes but had nothing to show for it.
Tech, though, cashed in during the shootout, getting goals by Eduardo Sanchez, Joel Velazquez, Brandon Vargas and Guillermo Flores.
Tyler Harvey made two key saves in the shootout, stopping Oscar Gomez and Ruben Pacheco. Harvey had nine saves in regulation and the overtimes.
“He really got a lot of confidence after that first save,” Jones said. “We’re just thankful we got to the next round. We get two guys back with fresh legs, and we need that after having some guys log a lot of minutes today.”
In the second semifinal, the Miners punched their ticket to the school’s first state title match in any sport.
“It’s a great feeling,” Sunrise Mountain coach Brett Underwood said. “We played in some conditions that we’re not used to playing in, but our kids really stepped up to the challenge.”
Luis Cortez’s goal gave Sunrise Mountain a 1-0 halftime lead, and Enrique Pedraza tacked on a goal in the second half to bump the lead to 2-0.
Manuel Sarabia scored the Wolverines’ goal on a corner kick with about seven minutes left.
“It was a confusing call, and our kids got caught by surprise a little,” Underwood said. “But they didn’t let it get them down. They knew there wasn’t a lot of time left, and we went to a more defensive formation.”
Today’s championship is a rematch of last week’s Southern Region final, which Tech won 3-2 in overtime.
“We can not come out flat like we did last week,” Underwood said.