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Tiara Rose
ASU Student Journalist

Camelback earns berth in 5A tournament

February 13, 2020 by Tiara Rose, Arizona State University

Camelback huddles on the field after their 2-1 victory over Rincon/University. (Photo: Tiara Rose/AZPreps365)

A successful penalty kick lifted Camelback into the 5A state tournament as the Spartans beat the Rincon/University Rangers on Thursday, 2-1.

The Spartans will play one of the top eight teams on Saturday in the first round of the tournament. Seedings and matchups for the tournament will be released Friday by the AIA.

Less than five minutes remained in regulation when senior Elmer Bernal stepped up to take a penalty kick. Players and spectators stood silent until Bernal’s powerful strike landed in the bottom left-hand corner of the goal, sending the home crowd into an eruptive praise.

Bernal said his plan was to aim for the right side of the net, but he read the goalkeeper’s eyes and changed his decision at the last second.

Camelback coach Rob Wagner said the team practiced penalty kicks coming into Thursday’s game in case a tie after overtime forced a shoot-out -- a scenario that looked probable late in the second half with the score tied at one.

Camelback struck first in the 48th minute. Chaos ensued in the penalty area as the Spartans challenged Rincon/University goalkeeper Jake Sullivan close to the goal. Sullivan dove to his left to keep one shot out of the net but couldn’t hold onto the ball. When freshman Angel Salvador saw that the ball wasn’t secure, he redirected the deflection past the keeper and into the back of the net.

Rincon/University’s lone goal also came on an offensive second chance. Midfielder John Mkyanga tapped the ball into the net from the six-yard line after the ball bounced off of Camelback goalkeeper Andres Rivera.

“We’ve been really working hard on our players following the ball, and it came off the goalie and [Mkyanga] was fortunately up there and was able to put it away,” Rincon/University coach Roxanne Taylor said.

The Rangers’ inability to find the net for a second time in the match means the team’s dreams are cut short this year.

“Our team is very successful, and we usually go to state every year,” Taylor said. “A penalty kick for [Camelback] to get their second goal is a tough way to lose, but they’re a good team. They played well.”

The Rangers made it to semifinals in the state tournament last year before losing 5-1  to Campo Verde. Camelback also lost to Campo Verde in last year’s tournament, but its 3-1 defeat came in the first round.

The Spartans hope to make it farther this year, but the team will need to convert more plays near the net into goals.

“We won the shooting contest but didn’t put enough of them in,” Wagner said. “We have to figure out how to improve on just putting them in the back of the net.”

The Spartans shot 17 times in the first half alone, forcing Sullivan to make seven saves to keep the score tied at zero going into halftime.

Taylor noted that the Rangers played flat during the first half, only shooting four times during the first 40 minutes. Although the Rangers offense intensified in the second half, it wasn’t enough to pull out a win against the Spartans.

Moving forward, Camelback will rely the on the strength of its veteran players to power the team through the remaining matches.

“We have a good number of seniors,” Wagner said. “They’re hungry. They want to go further than we ever have.”