2012 Girls Soccer State Tournament Semifinals
Who: No. 2 Xavier vs. No. 3 Highland; No. 1 Hamilton vs. No. 4 Pinnacle
When: Thursday 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. respectively
Where: Campo Verde H.S. (3870 S. Quartz Street, Gilbert)
Outlook: Two years ago, Xavier and Highland met in a thriller of a semifinals. It featured a boatload of skill players, a controversial red card to Highland's best midfielder (Hilary Zeunuk) in the final four minutes, an incredible game-winning shot under the crossbar by Sam Cummings (who was denied by Highland GK Tessa Hamberlin during a penalty kick earlier) with 16 seconds left, and then a diving save by Annie Graham on Ashley Hatch's boot with 4.8 seconds left in Xavier's 2-1 victory. Good luck trying to top that match anytime soon, and the schools look drastically different these days. They're both, however, quite good. The Gators are loaded with sophomores and juniors (four seniors on the roster, albeit important ones), but have loads of talent and almost all of those youngsters alreay have championship-match experience. Much the same can be said for the Hawks, who've been to the quarterfinals or semifinals each of the past five years. Highland punished Yuma Kofa to begin this tournament, then beat Goodyear Millennium on penalty kicks, 5-4. Xavier shut out both Phoenix Trevor Browne and scored twice in the second half to beat Chaparral (the only team to beat Xavier in power point matches this season) to get here. The Hawks have plenty of talent on offense, led by Hatch, and the defense has been solid again, but can John Berzins' team finally get a break or two it'll need to get through another Gator gauntlet?
The nightcap features defending-champion Hamilton and No. 4 Pinnacle, and that No. 4 seed isn't very reflective of how good the Pioneers' roster is. Missy Kettelkamp and Maddie Kmetko will be counted on heavily in the absence of sophomore sensation Jorian Baucom (yes, she's the real deal). Baucom was called up to play for a U15 national team this weekend, but was going to have to sit out the semifinals anyway after receiving a red card (two yellow cards) during the quarterfinal match against Desert Vista. That's a huge loss for Pinnacle, and while they have several players who can fill the void, nobody demanded defensive attention like Baucom. Is that the lucky break a team (ie. Hamilton) needs to play in a second consecutive championship match? Freshman Gabby Martinez had a big part in putting the Huskies here again with two penalty kicks to beat a really good Gilbert team, one many considered the favorite even though Hamilton was at home. It'll be a challenge defensively for these Huskies, even without Baucom, but Laura Glew as a returning starter in goal has solidified the back end for Hamilton, and the Huskies have consistently gotten production from a wide cast of their roster. Mark Eggleston's team has also rebounded from early deficits during this tournament and during the power point season. The defense will again have to stand up and the Huskies will probably need at least two goals.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.