Spring Valley’s boys soccer team never made it into the Southern Nevada rankings like many of its Class 4A Sunset Region counterparts did this season.
But now the Grizzlies have one distinction no other Sunset team can flaunt: Region champion.
The third-seeded Grizzlies kept their Cinderella playoff run alive by scoring a pair of goals in the opening minutes of the second half and used a strong defensive effort to upset Durango 2-1 in the Class 4A Sunset Region final at Bettye Wilson Park on Saturday.
It was the first region title in school history for Spring Valley (10-7-4), which will meet Galena or Valley in a state semifinal at 4 p.m. Friday at Bettye Wilson Park. Durango (19-4-2) will play Valley (6-9-4) in a state play-in game at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Faith Lutheran.
“I don’t remember many times in my coaching career where we were the favorites,” said Spring Valley coach James Tippett, in his fifth season. “Even when we have good teams, we play with that chip on our shoulder to prove everybody wrong. And the boys did that today.”
After trailing 1-0 at halftime, Spring Valley came out fired up in the opening minutes of the second half. The Grizzlies controlled the midfield and dominated posession for the first 15 minutes to put pressure on Durango.
“That was the game plan — high pressure and make them uncomfortable,” Tippett said. “I think a lot of times, when you’re playing a team that’s a favorite, you give them too much respect and too much time on the ball. You let them implement what they want to do. And we wanted to do the opposite.”
Senior David Van Hoose tied the score when he connected on a 20-yard free kick less than a minute into the second half. On the play, Ethan Orme ran over the ball to keep Durango goalkeeper Paolo Sarnataro off-balance and then Van Hoose stepped up and fired the ball just inside the left post to even the score at 1.
“Credit to the keeper. He stood where I always hit it,” Van Hoose said. “I usually shoot top right, but he scooted a little too far and I saw the bottom left open. It was slick on the ground, so I thought ‘I’ll hit it and see what happens.’
“I know everyone says it, and some people doubt it, but the second you touch a goal, I swear you can feel it. I don’t know what it is. The second you hit it, you just know it’s in.”
Cesar Estrada then scored the go-ahead goal six minutes later on a bang-bang play. He stole the ball from a Durango midfielder, passed to teammate Jose Lopez and ran to the center of the field to quickly accept a return pass.
“Cesar didn’t score a single goal all (regular) season,” Tippett said. “He said to me before the playoffs, ‘Coach, I want to score in playoffs so bad.’ And I was like, ‘OK, that would be great.’ In the (region quarterfinals), he scored a banger — like 30 yards out and hits the post. He really wanted to score today, too. He’s a big-game player.”
Spring Valley’s defense held Durango scoreless the rest of the way to avenge two earlier losses to the Trailblazers this season.
Jamie Munguia had Durango’s lone goal off an assist from Erick Martinez-Rodriguez in the 19th minute.
Durango finished with 12 shot attempts, including seven on goal.
“They played well. Never gave up. Gave it their all,” Durango coach Richard Cuellar said. “We just let it get away a little bit. They got into the guys’ heads. …
“My guys kept it up and tried over and over — shot after shot. Just not lucky to put them in.”
Contact reporter Ashton Ferguson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0430. Follow @af_ferguson on Twitter.