GILBERT — It was the same two teams in the same place with a spot in the state championship on the line.
The game wasn’t quite as dramatic as the loss in penalty kicks of 363 days ago. But the result was the same for Ironwood Ridge — a 3-2 loss to Scottsdale Chaparral — in Thursday’s Class 5A girls state soccer semifinals.
“I think concept of playing at the same place, same team, same situation can get to the nerves of players,” Ironwood Ridge forward Isabella Santavicca said. “But we’re a strong-minded team. It was the same way last year, 70-30 possession, we had it the whole game. We just had to get that final third. Sometimes it’s hard to get.”
This year, a pair of lapses in a one-minute span of the first half took the wind out of the Nighthawks’ sails.
Third-seeded Chaparral (18-4-1) will face top-seeded Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep in Saturday’s final. Chaparral is looking for its second straight state crown.
“Those first two goals were really just unfortunate — two quick, bad mistakes and they just put it away,” Ironwood Ridge defender Emma McCormick said.
Third-season Ironwood Ridge (15-5-4) fell one game short of the finals for the third consecutive season.
But coach Sean Watkins said this year was different.
“We’re a completely different team than we were last year,” Watkins said. “Our style is different, our personnel is different, but I do feel bad for our seniors.”
On Thursday, Ironwood Ridge played its crisp controlled passing possession game perfectly.
The Nighthawks’ offense didn’t get many quality chances, but cut Chaparral’s lead to 2-1 in the 65th minute when Clare Merrigan knocked it in from close range. Chaparral scored off a corner kick four minutes later to take a 3-1 lead.
Julia Mohan powered a shot into the left corner with six minutes left to cut it to 3-2.
“We could have involved the outsides more in this game,” McCormick said. “At the same time, (the Firebirds’ defense) packed it in. Up 3-1, they just parked the bus on us.”
Ironwood Ridge had a couple of flurries late but couldn’t come up with a tying goal.
But the difference was a minute-long span midway through the first half.
Goalkeeper Quinci Black’s bobbled and dropped the ball, allowing Chaparral’s Isabella Struckman to score on an empty net and give the Firebirds a 1-0 lead 18 minutes into the game. Not long after, the Nighthawks failed to clear the ball and Chaparral’s Kelly Hitchcock got off a shot from 20 yards out.