GILBERT — The Cinderella team from Southern Arizona didn’t look like a long-shot underdog for the first 30 minutes of the Class 3A boys high school soccer semifinals on Friday night.
If it weren’t for a couple of bad breaks, 12th-ranked Sabino might have reached the final day of the season.
“Everyone doubted us, every game,” said senior Martin Cardenas Jr. “Every playoff game, they (the opponent) were like, ‘oh, it’s a No. 12 seed’ and they were coming in all cocky, I guess. And we surprised them all.”
The Sabercats (9-4-1) certainly surprised No. 1 seed Chandler AZ College Prep (13-0). Sabino hit a post less than three minutes into the game and had near-misses all night.
And although the top-ranked school didn’t get many chances, it converted two key ones in a short sequence late in the first half on its way to a 4-2 win over Sabino on Friday at Williams Field High School in Gilbert.
“We came out and we wanted to possess the ball and put pressure on them in the final third, the first 25 minutes we did that,” Sabino coach Eric Spitzer said.
“We just couldn’t find the finishing touch.”
Into the 34th minute, the teams were scoreless despite a lopsided number of chances for Sabino. But when goalkeeper Amin Lazli punched out a ball in an attempt to clear, AZ College Prep’s Ricardo Correa got a clear shot from 10 yards to give his team the lead.
Then, a couple of minutes before halftime, Sabino was whistled for a foul in the goal box and Kadin Rabo put the penalty kick into the right corner for the prep school’s second score.
Max Atnip scored from 15 yards out for Sabino 15 minutes into the second half to pull the Sabercats closer. But Rabo scored on a free kick outside the box in the 67th minute and AZ College Prep’s Basil Alhassen added another off a corner kick in the 70th minute.
John Atnip notched Sabino’s final goal.
Sabino pulled upsets in the first two rounds, beating No. 5 Queen Creek American Leadership and No. 4 Safford.
“It helps that we played 6A and 5A schools (in non-region play),” Spitzer said. “So everybody we played in the regular season – all 5A and 6A — made it into the tournament. So the Southern Arizona soccer is very intense. When we come up here, they know we are coming to play.”