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Patriots pull together to salvage season, gain playoff bid

Liberty’s girls soccer team could have given up on its season long ago.

After three straight losses sent the Patriots slumping to a 4-6-1 record near the midway point of Southeast League play, it would have been easy to write off any shot at a postseason berth.

Instead, the rough patch drew the team closer and propelled the Patriots into the Sunrise Region Tournament.

“We had a team talk, a couple of them, and everyone said what they had to say,” senior captain Alexia Gonzalez said. “It brought us closer together in the end.”

Coach Mike Eshragh said: “We had a heart-to-heart We came together as a team.”

Liberty rallied to win or tie five of its final six matches, including a three-game win streak to close the regular season and clinch a postseason berth.

The regrouped Patriots (8-6-2) face Las Vegas (10-5-3) at 4 p.m. today in the first round of the Sunrise Region tournament at Rancho. Southeast top seed Green Valley (12-0-2) plays the host Rams (6-5-3) at 6.

At Valley, Coronado (10-1-3) plays the host Vikings (6-4-4) at 4 p.m., followed by Northeast champ Eldorado (13-0-1) against Silverado (5-4-5).

Eshragh said he could sense Liberty’s season slipping away during the Southeast League skid.

“We were dropping games or points that I think we shouldn’t have dropped,” he said. “That dug a hole for us, a huge hole. Two weeks ago, they knew what they had to do.

“We feel like underdogs going into the playoffs. But we’re playing our best soccer now.”

The Patriots’ turnaround included wins over Silverado and Foothill, who had beaten Liberty by a combined 5-3 in the first meetings.

“We got together, and figured out what was going wrong,” sophomore forward Sunshine Soriano said. “I guess it worked. I’m so happy we’re going to the playoffs. I’m in shock. But I’m ready for the next game.”

Liberty, which has outscored opponents 43-35, had a combined 12-3 goal margin during the final three wins. Freshman Ari Gonzalez leads the offense with 12 goals and eight assists, and sister Alexia Gonzalez has 10 goals.

“We didn’t give up,” said Alexia Gonzalez, one of two seniors along with defender Maddy Chavez. “That’s all we could ever hope for. And we pulled through.”

The sister connection has paid off for the Patriots, with the younger Gonzalez providing excellent distribution out of the midfield to her sister and Soriano, who totaled 11 goals and six assists.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Alexia Gonzalez said of playing with her sibling. “Even though we sometimes get in little fights on the field, we still work well together. We always look out for each other. We’re not selfish, but we want to do the best for the team.”

Gonzalez, who has signed with Northern Arizona, also gave credit to first-year coach Eshragh and his assistants.

“They never gave up on us,” she said. “We came together as a family; I’m proud of us. We’re ready for the playoffs.”

In the Sunset Region tournament at Faith Lutheran, Palo Verde (11-3) faces Desert Oasis (8-4-2), and Bishop Gorman (12-1-1) meets Shadow Ridge (10-3-1) at 4 p.m. Northwest League top seed Arbor View (11-2-1) faces Sierra Vista (7-5-2), and Southwest champ Spring Valley (12-0-2) takes on Centennial (9-3-2) at 6 p.m.

Semifinals for both regions begin at 4 p.m. Thursday at Faith Lutheran.

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