Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
Jose Mendez — with a huge assist from Eli Espana — continued his torrid scoring pace as Phoenix advanced to the semifinals of the Class 4A boys soccer state playoffs at U.S. Cellular Community Park Saturday.
The Pirates defeated Ontario, 1-0 in overtime, getting a goal from Mendez six minutes into the first of two 10-minute overtime periods.
It was Mendez's eighth goal in the past five games.
The victory sets up Phoenix (13-1-1) with a road playoff rematch against La Salle Tuesday. The Pirates beat the Falcons, 2-1, in the 2011 quarterfinals en route to finishing second in the state.
On Saturday, La Salle (15-2) advanced with a 2-0 win over Stayton.
Mendez, a junior center midfielder, received a pass from Espana and pounded in a shot from 6 yards out.
Espana, a junior forward, was on the right side of the 18-yard box when he dribbled past two Tigers players and drew goalkeeper Javier Amaral to him. As Amaral converged, Espana chipped the ball over his head to Mendez.
"It was a great play by Eli," said 18th-year Phoenix coach Dennis Flenner.
Otherwise, the game was a study in defense.
As often is the case in the playoffs, said Flenner, both teams were conservative at the outset. Phoenix outshot Ontario (11-5-1) in the first half, 5-1, "but it was more sparring" than anything, said Flenner.
"I felt like we controlled the game and pace and possessions more than they did," he said.
Offensive play intensified the second half, with Phoenix getting off nine shots, but Amaral thwarted the Pirates on several occasions.
"We kept putting the ball in the right spots and he kept us out," said Flenner.
Similarly, Hector Rocha was a stalwart in recording the shutout for Phoenix. He made two outstanding saves, including one in the second half that "could have been a game-changer," Flenner said of a play on which Rocha dove to deflect a shot to the outside of the goal.
The Pirate defense — Eddie Arevalo, Jesus DeLaCruz, George Pinon and Said Castillo — was again at the heart of the victory.
"They've (Tigers) got a couple of powerful strikers, and those guys kept them from shooting on our goal," said Flenner.