Willow Canyon bounces back against Buena to book Tucson trip

Willow Canyon's Allison Veloz (#1) scores a goal in the first half against Buena on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018 at Willow Canyon High School in Surprise. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

Willow Canyon girls soccer was a little better at connecting on long balls to its speedster than Sierra Vista Buena in Thursday night’s 5A play-in game — plus the Wildcats scored the only goal off a set piece all night.

Thanks to that goal by sophomore Alyssa Reyes off a corner kick and three chase-and-score goals by junior forward Allison “Rose” Veloz, the #16 Wildcats triumphed in the 4-2 play in. Now Willow Canyon will play on in Tucson, after getting help from an unexpected source.

“As a senior, I’m not ready for it to be my last game, and I think that goes for all the seniors and the younger players. We’re trying to prolong the season,” senior Josephine Eke said.

Willow Canyon fell behind early and may have taken some time to regroup after its first loss to Surprise rival Shadow Ridge by a 3-2 score Tuesday night. But the Stallions did the Wildcats a favor Thursday night.

Shadow Ridge knocked off #14 Tucson Flowing Wells 2-1 in extra time. So after re-seeding for the main bracket, the Stallions are now #16 and will play the top seeded juggernaut from Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep Tuesday.

And Willow Canyon (11-8-1 overall) moves up to #15 and avoids the Saints, who beat them 5-0 this season. Instead the Wildcats face #2 Oro Valley Ironwood Ridge (13-4-4) — still a very difficult opponent but not as foreboding as Notre Dame.

“We really didn’t have time to have a hangover (from Tuesday’s loss). Everybody goes into the playoffs the same. It’s one and done. We looked at game film from Shadow and looked at what we needed to change,” Willow Canyon coach Kendra Melbye said. “We’ve played the best. We’ve played Notre Dame. We’ve played Chaparral and Liberty and Campo Verde. Are we capable of playing with them? Absolutely. It’s just mentally, can we keep ourselves in the game.”

Buena struck first with the scoot and score method in the 15th minute. The Colts lobbed a long ball to freshman Hailey Delos Santos-Ramos and she tucked it in the post for a 1-0 lead.

The Wildcats nearly scored to tie right away, and tightened up defensively.

“I don’t normally play defense. I’m usually a forward.  So it’s always difficult to switch mid-game but you put your 100 percent into it and chase them down no matter what,” senior Josephine Eke said.

Seven minutes after the Colts scored, the home team replied, though not from as long of a range. Sophomore Megan Tracey hit a curving through ball into Veloz’s path and the sprinter did the rest to tie it.

She just missed a free kick and the Wildcats nearly scored again before the half.

“I think we realized as a team that they’re playing a flat (formation) defensively and those are the kind of balls we’re going to get,” Veloz said. “After that goal we were way more confident in what kind of balls we need to send.”

Veloz just missed wide on a ball sent by junior goalkeeper Akela Patterson early in the second half. Not much happened until the 56th minute, except for a yellow card on a Buena player.

But in that 56th minute, the home team went from fury to celebration. Wildcats players and fans were up in arms after freshman forward Amber Key appeared to be shoved down in the box, without a penalty kick being called.

However, as a result of the play, the Colts knocked the ball out and set up a Willow Canyon corner kick. It bounced off a few players and Reyes poked it in for a 2-1 advantage.

“Alyssa showed great knowledge of where she needed to be and she’s got a great shot. We tell the girls all the time that it doesn’t have to be a pretty goal. You follow the ball and follow the play,” Melbye said.

Seven minutes later, Patterson sent a free kick deep and it bounced right to a sprinting Veloz. She then surged through the hand fighting of a Buena defender and tapped a goal past a diving keeper.

Buena (7-9-1) was not done. In the 67th minute, the visitors sprang Delos Santos-Ramos again to cut their deficit to 3-2.

Freshman Jaclyn Madrid nearly evened it in the 81st minute. But Willow Canyon received some gritty defensive play.

“Olivia de la Torre in the middle played lights out. That probably the best game I’ve seen her play. Megan played some good balls. Julia (Stngler) played pretty strong in the middle of the defense. She’s fighting through an injury.” Melbye said.

Patterson made a routine save in the 88th minute and kicked it deep. Velour was waiting again and out the game away.

“I think we realized that in the beginning of the season, right when she sent a long ball and I was able to get it. When she had a free kick, I would just send my hand and go get it,” Veloz said.

Willow Canyon’s Julia Stangler (#7) fights for possession of the ball against Buena on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018 at Willow Canyon High School in Surprise. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

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