Green Valley’s boys soccer team earned its first two playoff wins this week without getting a goal from its top two scorers.
But the Gators needed production from senior forward Ricardo Nunez on Saturday against defensive-minded Coronado.
Nunez, the second-leading scorer in Southern Nevada, scored twice to lead the Gators to a 2-0 win over Coronado in the Division I Sunrise Region final at Bettye Wilson Park.
By beating the Cougars for the third time this season, Green Valley (25-2-2) won its first region championship since 2012 and advanced to next week’s state tournament in Reno.
“Beating Eldorado three times was tough. Beating (Coronado) three times was tougher,” Green Valley coach Jacob Rivera said. “It’s a big tribute to all the work our guys have put in during the summer and before the season.”
Nunez, who has 26 goals this year, but hadn’t scored in three games prior to Saturday, scored the first goal of the match two minutes before halftime to give the Gators a 1-0 lead.
Alexander Gibson lasered a ball past a couple of Coronado defenders, but was denied by goalkeeper Harrison Skinner. Nunez picked up the deflected ball and tapped it in.
“The two starting forwards haven’t really scored any until this game,” Nunez said, referring to himself and senior Antonio Trama, who leads the team with 27 goals. “So I was expecting some of the underclassmen and midfielders to come in and do their job.”
Though Trama didn’t score on Saturday, he opened up space for the speedy Nunez to operate.
The Gators had eight shots at halftime, including four on goal, but it was their defense featuring senior defenders Connor Malone and German Martinez that stepped up to limit Coronado (10-7-3). The Cougars dominated possession in the second half, but couldn’t break through.
“They just put a lot of pressure on you. That’s what they do,” Coronado coach Dustin Barton said. “They’re very physical. They make you get rid of the ball. We started playing the way they play, and that’s not our game.”
In the 76th minute, Coronado had an opportunity to tie the game on a free kick just outside the box. The kick hit a wall of defenders and ended up out of bounds for a corner kick. The corner kick was short and was cleared by the Gators.
Along with his strong defensive play, Malone assisted on Nunez’s goal in the 79th minute to seal the win. Nunez chipped the ball just over the head of Skinner for a 2-0 lead.
“Game over,” Nunez said of the goal. “It’s amazing. Electricity goes through your body. You’re like, ‘That’s it. We’re up 2-0. There’s no way they can come back from that.'”
Rivera said: “For him to put that away, with the composure, was great. Three weeks ago, that ball is 50 yards over the goal. He stayed composed. And once that went in, I knew the game was basically over. We just had to wait a minute or so to celebrate.”
Skinner made seven saves for Coronado.
Green Valley’s Salvatore Hicks had four saves and now leads the area with 15½ shutouts.
The Gators, who last played in the state tournament in 2012, will be looking for its first state championship since 1999.
“We know it’s not going to be easy, but we’re going in with the same mindset,” Nunez said. “We’ve got to put goals away and be really solid with defense and put it to them, whoever we get.”