MARICOPA — It looked for all the world Wednesday like the game between Maricopa and Tucson High would end in a tie, a suitable result after 100 minutes of soccer where both sides had a tough time getting good chances. But it turned out there was still some magic in Madison Tyler’s right foot.
With only one minute left in the second half of overtime, the Rams won a free kick 55 yards away from goal. It was a windy night, and Tyler knew if she could get some good air under the ball, it would have the chance to go far. But even she wasn’t expecting what happened next.
“I saw it bounce and I was like, ‘oh my goodness’ and then it went into the goal,” Tyler said. “I was just so excited.”
That stunning conclusion gave the Rams (4-1-1) a huge win heading into the final stretch of the season. Not only will it strengthen their position in the rankings, where they came into Wednesday’s game ninth in the state’s toughest conference, but they are now the leaders of their region and need only to defeat Tucson Rincon in the season finale March 4 to secure that title.
But it wasn’t an easy road to that win by any means. In fact, for the first 60 minutes of the game, nothing came easy for Maricopa, as Tucson (2-3-1) disrupted all their attacks and passing lanes. Still, they took some shots from long range, and Lexy Rowe almost gave her team the lead, but it smacked off the crossbar.
Not even a minute later, with 19 minutes left in the half the Badgers turned the tide after a botched clearance delivered the ball to the feet of Juliana Valdez Ceballos, who made easy work of it to give Tucson the 1-0 lead. Then in the final minute of the half, McKinley Hacker took a big, swinging shot that also hit the crossbar.
Those were the only big chances for the Rams before halftime.
“We came out really flat, and we struggled,” said Maricopa coach Cortney Kellenaers. “That’s been a problem for us all season, and I don’t know if it’s youth or we need to warm up different.”
The game didn’t open up for the Rams until halfway through the second. At that point, they started connecting their passes in the Tucson side of the field. Finally, Rowe got some space in front of her, and curled a kick from just outside the box that found the back of the net.
“That was just nice,“ Kellenaers said. “When she hits it right, she hits it right.”
For the second time in as many halves, Hacker almost got a goal in just before the buzzer. With only 30 second left in regulation, the got a free kick from 30 yards out, and hit it on goal with some pace, but the keeper made a diving stop to force the game into overtime.
“After the first half, we started talking to each other,” Tyler said. “‘We are so much better than this, we need to kick their butts.’ I think that helped us kick it into gear, especially once we scored.”
There wasn’t much action until the second 10-minute period of that overtime, when the Badgers gave the Rams a huge scare with Destini Munoz’s shot hitting the post and almost go in.
This all set up Tyler’s free kick from the Rams’ side of the field. Kellenaers said the goal of a play like that is to get the ball into a position near the goal where another players can flick the ball into the net. But it turned out there was no flick necessary, as the ball bounced and sailed over the keeper’s outstretched arms.
“I knew it was gonna be a fight, and it was only a matter of finding out what their weaknesses are,” Kellenaers said. “We knew it was the goalie’s height. I was trying to get them to do more of those (types of shots). So we got that lucky one with a bounce to it.”
The Rams, who had several games canceled so far this season, will play their next game at home Thursday against Mesa Mountain View. It’s going to be tiresome on a team that has had to use numerous junior varsity players on the big stage. But the Rams are ready to prove they belong among the best in the 6A conference.
“I definitely think we want to make it farther than we did last year,” Tyler said. “I mean, that’s a goal every year for us, but I think we’re ready to make history for our school again.”