It wasn’t a pretty picture, but it did bring Nicholas Markette’s vision closer into view.
The Hamilton boys soccer program earned a spot in the 5A-I state championship match with a hard-fought 2-1 overtime victory (4-3 in penalty kick shootout) over Gilbert in the semifinals Wednesday at Campo Verde High School.
“We started with a vision three years ago, so these seniors, they have our culture,” said Markette, Hamilton’s third-year coach. “They’ve had their eye on this, to be here, so they’re not surprised to get where they are.”
Hamilton, arguably the state’s premier high school football program, has climbed up the ranks in the high school soccer world and will now face Corona del Sol in Saturday’s championship match at Campo Verde.
“It’s real nice because now the school’s getting behind us,” said Huskies forward Tanner Clay. “We’re having pep assemblies and we’ve never had those before.”
Gilbert definitely made it tough for the Huskies, as the Tigers jumped out to a 1-0 lead just 18 minutes into the match. J.D. Carver hit a well-placed corner kick to the right foot of teammate Brandon Christie, who hit the ball while it was still in the air and redirected it past Hamilton goalkeeper J.D. Zehring.
“We knew what was coming and we messed up our assignments,” Markette said of Christie’s goal. “We were supposed to have someone fronting that guy.”
Hamilton was then the more aggressive offensive side, with Michael Markette, Kerel Bradford and Clay constantly pressuring Tigers’ keeper J.J. Meier, who made nine saves on the night.
The Huskies finally broke through with 30 minutes left in the second half, as Bradford took a hard shot on goal, which Meier saved. The ball bounced out to Clay, who sent a low shot past the diving Meier and into the net.
For the rest of the match, things were physical, with multiple fouls being whistled on both sides. Hamilton was hit with five yellow cards, including two on Bryan Suarez, who will be forced to sit out Saturday’s championship match.
One of those fouls came with 16 minutes left in regulation, as Gilbert’s Marco Jimenez was taken down in the penalty area, giving the Tigers a free kick. However, Christie misfired on the kick, sending it high and over the cross bar.
The penalty kick shootout turned when Gilbert’s second attempt was missed. Hamilton didn’t miss on any of its kicks and when Gilbert’s fifth and final chance rolled left of the goal, the Huskies were on to the title game.