The Grand Canyon High School soccer team may have been down after failing to win last weekend, but the Phantoms are not out when it comes to the race for a state playoff spot.
Miles Hunter blasts a shot vs. Ash Fork on Friday.
Despite a scoreless tie against Ash Fork on Friday and a 6-1 setback to unbeaten Sedona Red Rock on Saturday, the Phantoms could still slip into the No. 5 spot. The season just might come down to the final regular-season game on Saturday at Phoenix Country Day School.
"Depending on what PCDS does, it looks like it will come down to the last game of the season," Grand Canyon coach Ken Hunter said. "So we’ll have a playoff atmosphere there, even though it’s not the playoffs."
If there are no upsets and favored Valley Lutheran (3-3) defeated PCDS (2-3) on Tuesday of this week, and then Camp Verde (5-1) downs Grand Canyon (1-3-1) on Friday, that would set up a showdown between the Eagles and Phantoms on Saturday night. With a win, Grand Canyon would finish a half-game ahead of PCDS in the standings and clinch fifth place.
The top five teams out of the region qualify for the state playoffs, which begin Nov. 1 in Tucson. Sedona, Chino Valley and Camp Verde have clinched and Valley Lutheran has the inside trek on the fourth spot.
The Phantoms suffered a bit of a setback Friday with the 0-0 double overtime tie at Ash Fork. The Spartans came out with a defense-oriented game plan and Coach Sonny Martin’s team executed, frustrating Grand Canyon all afternoon.
"They were playing not to lose is the way they were playing," Hunter said. "They had in the entire game only four shots on goal, three in the first half, one in the second half and none in the overtimes."
Grand Canyon had several opportunities to score, but could not finish. In the final five minutes of regulation, Joe Wilkerson just missed with a blast that sailed high and then Scott Olsen set up Filiberto Valerio moments later but the shot was missed. Chas Iacampo and Miles Hunter also saw attempts fail in the final minutes and the game went into overtime.
In the first extra period, Iacampo had a shot go high just one minute in. Then the Phantoms could get nothing out of a couple of corner kick opportunities. Valerio, Iacampo and Hunter had shots on goal.
The game went into a second OT and Ash Fork became content to simply kick the ball out of bounds most of the period. Hunter had a shot on goal that missed to the right and a corner kick netted nothing.
"They had opportunities and they missed them," Coach Hunter said. "It’s tough because we worked on a way to beat that style of play. It involves a lot of quick, short passes, but that doesn’t work on that dirt field. The ball bounces a lot. They took advantage of their home-field advantage."
Grand Canyon had to pick itself up after the disappointing tie and take on unbeaten Sedona Red Rock the following afternoon. The Scorpions should be among the favorites to take this year’s 1A-3A state title.
In the first half, Sedona controlled the flow of the game but the Phantoms hung tough and trailed only 1-0 at halftime. Sergio Toscano found the net for Sedona on a skillful shot in the 18th minute.
Sedona missed on several other chances, partially because of inaccurate attempts and partially because of Grand Canyon’s defense. Goalkeeper Nate Bitsui had several saves and on a few occasions when caught out of the net, players like John Gabaldon and Matthew Beckerleg got in the way of Sedona shots and cleared the ball.
With about five minutes left in the first half, Bitsui got caught out of position while trying to rush up to the ball. Sedona ended up with an open shot, but the Phantoms got lucky. The ball hit the upper crossbar and bounced straight up and down before rolling off to the side.
In the second half, Sedona’s skill on the field began to take its toll. The senior-heavy Scorpions scored five times in the second 40 minutes on two goals by Bill Fitz, another by Toscano and on a shot by Toby Eck. Sedona found the net on another goal on a corner kick.
Grand Canyon only had three shots on goal the entire game. The Phantoms did score in the 66th minute when Miles Hunter set up Chas Iacampo on a goal. Grand Canyon’s Tempy Walker just missed about 10 minutes into the second half and Hunter saw a shot go high on a penalty kick attempt.
The Phantoms take a 1-3-1 conference mark and 7-7-1 overall record into this week’s action.
Friday at Ash Fork
Grand Canyon 0 0 0 0—0
Ash Fork 0 0 0 0—0
Yellow Cards—Grand Canyon, Jesse Hunter, 71st minute.
Saturday at Grand Canyon
Sedona Red Rock 1 5—6
Grand Canyon 0 1—1
First half—1, Sedona, Sergio Toscano, 18th minute.
Second half—2, Sedona, Bill Fitz, 43rd minute. 3, Sedona, Fitz, 46th minute. 4, Grand Canyon, Chas Iacampo (Miles Hunter), 66th minute. 5, Sedona, Toscano, 68th minute. 6, Sedona, Not available, 72nd minute. 7, Toby Eck, 77th minute.
Yellow Cards—Grand Canyon, Iacampo, 76th minute.
Red Cards—Sedona, Toscano, 76th minute.