Crusaders make soccer quarterfinals through solid second half

Northwest Christian sophomore goalkeeper Ryan Freehand prepares to drive a goal kick against Phoenix Bourgade Catholic Wednesday in the 3A boys soccer playoffs. [Donna Mundy/For West Valley Preps]

Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

Northwest Christian boys soccer celebrated and exhaled following its first round win in the 3A playoffs Wednesday night, but it was a bit muted.

Coach Jeremy Witt was quick to remind his team that its play in this game will not be good enough to advance deeper into the tournament.

The No. 6 Crusaders scored as most of the crowd arriving, then watched No. 11 Phoenix Bourgade Catholic dominate the last 20 minutes of the first half and tie it. Another good start to a half culminated with freshman midfielder Caden Murphy drilling a shot into the upper right corner of the net.

That goal in the 45th minute stood up — with a few scares — for a 2-1 Northwest Christian win.

“We found that passion again that we started the game with,” Northwest Christian coach Jeremy Witt said. “We started the second half like that. We just have to keep it throughout a 40-minute half. Instead of letting off the gas, we have to keep pressing.”

In Saturday’s quarterfinal, Northwest Christian (12-3-1) travels to No. 3 Queen Creek Casteel (12-2) for a 2 p.m. start. The teams have not played each other this year.

As he often does, sophomore Michael Huss opened the scoring for the home team in the opening moments. The Crusaders converted their trademark high press into points.

Throughout the first 10 minutes, Northwest Christian continued to blitz Boudage’s third. But they could not generate much after that.

“Up until the first goal, we just played high pressure. That’s what we’re trying to do,” Witt said. “After the goal, we just shut down.

The Golden Eagles used their blend of possession and short passing to build a more traditional attack. After tilting play in their favor, the visitors earned a penalty kick when their player was pulled down in the box.

Senior midfielder Erik Florez calmly slotted the penalty kick in the left corner to tie.

“Our main message was to relax and have fun. I think when we were able to do that, we created a lot of opportunities,” senior forward Kody Depart said.

A couple more Bourgade chances were parried, but it was clear the Golden Eagles were greatly improved from the squad that lost its season opener to the Crusaders 6-1.

“The team that we saw in the first game of the season was not the same team we saw tonight. They’re way better,” Witt said.

Murphy’s strike led a more consistent second half for the Crusaders. Huss had a couple good chances.

Bourgade was mostly muted in the final 25 minutes, save a couple chances. In the 60th minute Crusaders goalkeeper Ryan Frieland slid out snare a through ball just before senior Luis Lopez could get a touch on it.

Then, in the 68th minute, Golden Eagles freshman Julio Lopez had a clear but rushed look at the goal, which missed just right.

“After they got that first goal, we were kind of back on our heels. We had to play our game and try to keep their ball from our possession game. I think we did that well a couple times,” Dehart said. “We’ll learn from this and carry it on to the next round.”

Northwest Christian freshman Caden Murphy closes in on Bourgade Catholic senior Abraham Bobadilla during Wednesday’s 3A first round playoff game at Northwest Christian. [Donna Mundy/For West Valley Preps]

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