Kory Pippin knew it couldn’t be this easy.
No matter how complete a first half his Western boys soccer team had played in the Class 3A Southern Region championship game on Saturday, Sunrise Mountain wasn’t going to just fold up and go home.
Pippin was right.
Though the Warriors built a three-goal lead after the first 40 minutes, they still had to sweat out an eventual 3-2 victory at Bettye Wilson Complex.
“Sunrise Mountain, they have the pedigree,” Pippin said. “They don’t like to lose. It’s not like they were going to lay down and wait for next week.”
Over the first half, it didn’t seem as though it would matter what the Miners (18-2-1) would do. No matter what they tried, the Warriors (18-3-3) were there – both offensively and defensively.
In fact, so complete was the Western effort for 40 minutes, goalie Francisco Corona became almost a spectator. He faced only one real shot that he had to save in the first half, and that was a looping free kick over the defensive wall of the Warriors from more than 20 yards out.
Meanwhile, on the offensive end it was again the Juan Estrada show. Estrada began the title game like he did the semifinal against Mojave on Thursday. He settled a ball in the middle less than five minutes into the contest, turned and whacked a line drive that beat keeper Cristian Morales to the left side for a 1-0 lead.
Western extended its lead in the 17th minute, when Andy Rodriguez took a pass from Estrada after Estrada had been unable to get a clean shot off himself and scored to make it 2-0.
Rodriguez and Estrada then combined to make it 3-0 10 minutes later. Rodriguez hit a solid shot that banged off the goal’s crossbar and ricocheted back into the penalty box. Estrada followed the shot into the box, and on one hop headed it back under the arm of goalie Enrique Perez.
“They were a little more pumped up than we were at the start,” Sunrise Mountain coach Patrick Mohrbacher said. “Estrada scored a great goal. Sometimes you just get beat. But that game could have gone either way.”
It could have, because the second half brought the Miners the chances they needed. They simply couldn’t get the equalizer to go in after getting it close.
Sunrise Mountain scored six minutes into the second half when Angel Arreola was fouled in the box, and he fired the penalty kick into the top-right corner past Corona to make it 3-1. Arreola then fed a pass to Jonzo Jimenez-Vasquez on the right side at the 57th minute, and Jimenez-Vazquez made it 3-2.
Then it was hang-on time for the Warriors.
Sunrise Mountain generated three more stellar chances down the stretch, including two that got Corona out of position and left a largely open net. On both of those chances, though, defender Gustavo Sanchez got in front of the shooter and get the ball out of harm’s way.
“Our captain,” Pippin said. “The person who steps up is the smallest person out there, but has a heart so much bigger than his stature.”
Western won its second title of the year, adding the region championship to its league title. Both teams, though, have a shot at the ultimate ending when both play in the state semifinals on Friday.
“We’re not done,” Corona said. “Next we have to win that state ring.”
“I’ve got some joy now,” added Pippin, who admitted on Thursday after the semifinal victory that it was more relief. “We’ve got two titles. Now we’re trying to win No. 3.”