Phoenix boys close out regular season in style
PHOENIX — For the past few weeks, Phoenix head coach Chris Gallegos has been feeling better and better about how his team has been playing.
The progress the Pirates have been making was on full display Monday night.
In a battle of two of Class 4A’s top teams, second-half goals from seniors Victor Martinez and Jorge Mejia and a stalwart defensive performance gave No. 4-ranked Phoenix a 2-0 win over third-ranked Henley in the regular-season finale for both teams at P-T Rising Field.
“Just the way things were going, the way things have been building up, we’ve been playing better,” Gallegos said. “Everybody’s been coming together and it’s been building block, building block, building block.
“This is what we needed to get ready for the playoffs, so that’s kind of what we were looking toward. Henley is a phenomenal team, we knew it was going to be close, so this is going to be the perfect game to help us roll into the playoffs.”
The first time these two teams met in Klamath Falls on Oct. 6, Henley — which clinched the Skyline Conference title last Friday with a win over Klamath Union, snapping Phoenix’s five-year run atop the standings — claimed a 6-2 win, a game where Gallegos knew things just totally got away from his team.
Monday night, however, was a totally different story for the Pirates (12-2, 8-2 Skyline).
Not only did Phoenix get the win and a little bit of revenge on Henley (11-3-1, 9-1), but the Pirates limited the Hornets to all of eight shots the entire game.
“We needed to clean up a few things defensively,” Gallegos said. “Once we did that, it’s started to click. The boys are starting to click and they’re really just falling into place. We’re going the right direction. ... I’ve got a great back line right now and they’re doing a great job. You win championships with defense, and that’s what they’re doing. Sergio (Alegria) played a phenomenal game and he really stepped up. He’s just been a great leader us back there.”
The first half finished scoreless despite Phoenix outshooting Henley by a 9-3 margin. The Pirates’ best chance of the first half came seven minutes before the break, as Cielo Marlia-Larsen sent in a cross toward the back post from the right wing. Caden Gallegos made the run into the 6-yard box, but his sliding effort went just wide.
The Pirates’ fortunes changed less than six minutes into the second half when Martinez, the reigning Skyline player of the year, tried to split a pair of defenders just inside the penalty area. The center referee ruled that a foul was committed in the process, giving Phoenix the penalty and a chance to get in front.
Martinez had no problems doing that, sending Henley keeper Andrew Edwards the wrong way and burying his shot into the left side of the net. I
t was the first goal Henley — which entered Monday night’s game on a four-game winning streak — had allowed since Oct. 9 in a 3-2 loss to McLoughlin.
The Pirates doubled their lead in the 62nd minute, with Martinez again initiating the action that led to the goal. Martinez put a nifty move on the defender marking him as he turned with the ball, but saw his shot blocked. Before the ball could land, Caden Gallegos attempted to volley a shot toward goal, but that was also blocked. The second ricochet landed at the feet of Mejia, who had time to control the ball at the back post and fire it home to give Phoenix a 2-0 lead.
Not even three minutes later, Henley had its best chance of the night, but Phoenix keeper Tucker Speaks’ double save — the first one coming on a looping shot that he tipped onto the crossbar — kept the Hornets off the scoreboard.
It allowed Speaks and the rest of the Phoenix defense to record their fourth shutout in the last five games.
“We did a good job and a lot better than we did over there,” Alegria said. “When we were over there, (the defenders) decided to go up because we weren’t scoring enough. We should have just stayed in the back the whole time. ... We wanted (the shutout) really bad because we were giving it our all. We weren’t there mentally for the game that was 6-2 (against Henley), but here, this is our home and we did what we do at our home — and that’s win.”
Speaks, another one of Phoenix’s nine seniors, finished with four saves, while Edwards made five stops.
As a team, the Pirates outshot the Hornets 17-8.
“Playoffs are right around the corner and we’re trying to get better, trying to improve,” Alegria said. “We’re trying to win.”
HENLEY 6, PHOENIX 2: At Klamath Falls, Phoenix fell behind early and was never able to recover in the regular-season finale against a postseason-bound Henley squad that finished second in the Skyline Conference.
After the Hornets (9-4, 7-3 Skyline) jumped out to a 2-0 lead with goals in the 12th and 15th minutes, freshman Carsyn Gallegos gave the Pirates (3-10, 1-9) life with a score in the 20th minute on a pass from junior Sofia Rodriguez.
Following a goal early in the second half by Henley, Phoenix senior Maddy Mayer connected on a PK at the 46-minute mark to cut the Hornets’ lead to 4-2.
Junior Morgan James played well in the midfield, winning 50/50 balls and setting up opportunities in transition for the Pirates.
Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.