When the night got tough, Hamilton conveniently remembered what's gotten its boys soccer team to this point for five years running.
Crisp passing, a pressing defense and Gabriel Parra-Munoz doing what elite players do in postseason play helped the No. 1-seed Huskies do an about-face in the final eight minutes of the Division I state tournament semifinal on Wednesday night, turning a precious-rare deficit into a 4-3 victory over No. 5 Phoenix Sandra Day O'Connor at Campo Verde High School.
Look what's left: No. 1 Hamilton vs. No. 2 Brophy in the Div. I state championship match on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Campo Verde. The paradigm of boys soccer's depth may have expanded the past decade in Arizona, but Hamilton is back in the championship match for the fourth time in five years - including a state title over Brophy in 2012 - and the Broncos are playing in their fourth consecutive championship.
"What we saw was an unwillingness to quit," Hamilton coach Nick Markette said of his team, a mantra he repeated more than once after the match.
Just as Phoenix Alhambra was ready to cause a championship shakeup in the day's early semifinal match before Brophy won in wild fashion in penalty kicks, so, too, was O'Connor.
The goings were rough early in each half for the Huskies, which fell behind 1-0 early, came back and took a 2-1 lead at intermission on goals by Sam Mazzola and Kalvin Parr as they controlled the final 30 minutes before halftime, but lost that lead early in the second half on consecutive goals by O'Connor's talented forwards Jackson Jellah and Ethan Ramsey.
With a season-high in goals surrounded (3), trouble stopping O'Connor forwards Jellah, Musa Morris and Alexis Aguilar, and 20 minutes left in the season, Para-Munoz went to work. He controlled possession in the midfield and into O'Connor territory, forced a couple key turnovers, set up his teammates for multiple chances, and tied the match at 3-3 when an O'Connor turnover led to him moving the ball across the middle of the field. He wound up and drilled a shot from 25 yards away which deflected off O'Connor's goalkeeper and in to make it 3-3.
"We never gave up, we knew something good was coming," Para-Munoz said. "We kept our heads up and kept going, and finished."
Four minutes later, Connor Follet put away the game-winner after a quick display of masterful passing during a 3-on-2 breakaway with Tyler Patel and Andrew Holland after another O'Connor turnover in its territory. Again, Para-Munoz instigated the change of possession.
O'Connor was forced to bring up sophomore JV goalie Matthew Ortiz because of injuries to its two varsity 'keepers, and the Huskies shut down O'Connor's dynamic front when it hounded the defense into turnovers and used its quick passing game to create multiple chances in the minutes leading up to the final two goals. Hamilton goalie Damian Klymko made six saves, including a couple back-to-back stops from close range with 15 minutes left in regulation to keep Hamilton within striking distance.
It was a far cry from the admittedly "nervous" group - according to Para-Munoz - which took the field and was in "chase mode" the first 15 minutes of each half.
All seven combined goals between the teams were scored by seven different kids.
Not much love has been lost between Brophy and the Huskies in recent years both during the regular season and playoffs, and though the schools didn't meet this season, arguably the biggest soccer rivalry resumes.
"It wasn't all about me, the team helps one another," Para-Munoz said. "I'm not going down all sad, I wasn't going to let my family down."
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune assistant managing editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.