For any other squad – a less-experienced or certainly less-tenacious one – an unfulfilling half of soccer could derail a season.
That’s especially true in the playoffs.
For a senior-laden Highland girls' squad, a half of missed chances did not keep the defending Division I state champion Hawks from an appointment in the semifinals.
The No. 3 seed – who beat Hamilton for the state title a year ago also as a No. 3 seed – held off Anthem Boulder Creek on Saturday, 4-1, in the Division I quarterfinals.
Highland faces No. 2 Desert Vista on Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Campo Verde H.S. The Thunder beat Highland, 2-1, in the Tempe Diablo tournament in early December.
“I can’t tell you how excited and happy I am,” said DeGracie, who got her 45th and 46th assists of the season on Saturday. “This isn’t the end of the road. This just gets us fired up to keep rolling. We are going to go.”
The seeds stayed true to form as No. 4 Xavier will meet top-seeded Pinnacle in the other semifinal at Campo Verde on Wednesday night.
For the Hawks (21-2-2) it is their third trip to the semifinals in the past four seasons, having lost to Xavier in the semifinals in 2010 and getting upset in the quarterfinals as a No. 3 seed in 2011.
“They’ve been there, they know what they need to do,” Highland coach John Berzins said. “They have the experience, they have that leadership. I don’t think they are ready to give up the reins to anybody. They want to keep after it. (Desert Vista) on Wednesday is going to be a phenomenal game.”
Most of the discussion is about Highland’s efficient and prolific offense, on Saturday, the Hawks’ kept Boulder Creek from getting any offensive rhythm.
“Our defense doesn’t get enough credit ever,” Berzins said. “We play three in the back. There is not another team that plays three in the back consistently like us except Desert Vista. In 50 games, over the last two years, we have given up 34 goals. Our defense is definitely worthy (of attention).”
On Saturday, Highland had a 1-0 halftime lead – a quintessential Hawks goal set up by a DeGracie flip throw-in – but didn’t seem to be clicking.
“We had a lot flip throws, set pieces usually we get on those and usually get them in and we couldn’t get it,” Jarvis said. “So that made us strive to work harder and get a goal.”
The table was righted barely five minutes into the second half when Brena Jarvis personified the attitude of her team, staying with a ball into the corner despite a defender on her and she played a perfect cross to the far post that Ashley Hatch headed in from close range for a 2-0 lead – her 43rd goal of the season.
“No, I did not want to give up,” Jarvis said. “I feel like what’s a better time to go all out but in the tournament, the state tournament so I wanted what’s best.”
The momentum now firmly back on the Hawks’ side, DeGracie and Hatch had a couple more chances. After Jarvis drew a yellow card on Boulder Creek’s Angela Boyle, DeGracie had a free kick but passed to Hatch, whose shot was saved by Jaguar goalkeeper Meghan Strang in the 52nd minute. A couple minutes later, DeGracie got another flip opportunity, putting it in place for Hatch, but she missed the header wide right.
Then, in the 61st minute, Highland failed to clear a throw-in deep in its end, leading to a corner kick by Kyle Escobedo, who crossed to Natalie Stephens for the Boulder Creek’s lone goal.
Highland quickly got the momentum back just over a minute later when DeGracie’s corner bounced around, going off of Jarvis and over the goal line for the third Hawk goal. Boulder Creek’s Strang did not agree and after voicing her opposition to the referee was red carded with 18:42 remaining.
Hatch went up the sideline, crossing to Makkel Parrot for the final margin in the 74th minute.
“At halftime we were just saying we got to come get it,” DeGracie said. “We keep pushing. So in the second half we never give up. We get one goal, we are not done with one goal, we just keep going, keep going and fighting our hardest.”