When you're the No. 1 seed you have to prove it four times in a 16-team tournament. On Wednesday night, Hamilton' boys soccer team was forced to dig deep in its third challenge to earn a chance at the fourth.
Hamiilton scored twice in the final seven minutes to overcome a 3-2 deficit and edge a more-than-game Sandra Day O'Connor, 4-3, in a D-I semifinal at Campo Verde High School.
Connor Follet booted home the game-winner on a 3-2 break Hamilton gained in the 76th minute. Just four minutes earlier, teammate Gabriel Para-Munoz tied the match at 3 as the Huskies would not wilt under the pressure of elimination as the clock ran down.
Hamilton improved to 23-1 and gets a shot at No. 2 Brophy in the D-I title match Saturday (Feb. 15) at 6 p.m. at Campo Verde. It will be the third time in five years Hamilton and Brophy have met for the title. Brophy, the defending champion, was pushed to a shootout to eliminate No. 6 Alhambra, 3-2, in Wednesday's early semifinal. Sandra Day O'Connor, the No. 5 seed, concluded its season 18-3 under first-year coach Harry Demos.
"I saw an unwillingness to quit," Hamilton coach Nick Markette said of his team in the see-saw battle. "It was against a quality team and quality coach. On the last goal Tyler (Patel) picked it off, got it to Andrew (Holland) and he sent a cross to (Follet). We refound ourselves there at the end."
Seven goals were scored in the contest and seven players produced those goals. SDO struck first in the 9th minute with Alexis Aguilar scoring on a cross from Musa Morris. Most of the rest of the half belonged to Hamilton as the Huskies scored twice in four minutes (16th and 20th) to tie and then take the lead. Follet fed Sam Mazzola on the first and Kalvin Parr notched the second.
Energy favored SDO as the second half began with the Eagles scoring twice in four minutes (45th and 49th). Jackson Jellah tied the match at 2 and Ethan Ramsey followed to put SDO ahead for a second time, 3-2.
SDO kept Hamilton at bay as time wound down to 10 minutes, but a barrage of chances ended with Hamilton finishing two of them for the win.
"I'm so proud of our guys," Demos said. "I knew it would take a lot of goals to win this one. We got three. At the end we had trouble physically with some transition moments. We had a sophomore keeper (up from the junior varsity) in all our playoff games because of injuries. I thought Matt (Ortiz) played very well for us. They're just a very tough team."
Hamilton, which allowed only seven goals in the regular season and nine prior to Wednesday, gave up three goals in a game for he first time all season. Markette gave credit to some intangibles in creating its lates triumph.
"Some of it goes to tradition and pride," Markette said. "We kind of settled on a philosophy that (Salpointe coach) Wolfgang Weber holds to. You adopt a style, stick to it and say this is how we play."