Being a four-year starter, LaSalle goalkeeper Iker Sanchez wasn’t interested in seeing his high school career end on Wednesday night. At least not yet.
Sanchez came up huge numerous times over the final 25 minutes, including a giant diving save of a penalty kick, as he led the Royal Lions to a 1-0 victory over University School in a boys’ soccer Region 4-2A final at University.
The win puts LaSalle (21-5-2) into the state semifinals for the second time in the last three years. The Royal Lions will host Sarasota Cardinal Mooney in a 2A state semifinal Saturday at 7 p.m.
Sanchez, who recorded 15 saves, not only saved the PK attempt by University’s Liam Borbely with 23 minutes left, diving perpendicular to his right, he then warded off a series of quality University chances in the final three minutes as the Sharks (18-3-3) applied major pressure.
“Iker’s been our starter for four years and one of the team leaders so we expect a lot of him and he sure delivered tonight in a big-time way,” said LaSalle head coach Richard Jobson. “He’s primed for this stuff. It’s all-in for him and all of us right now. There’s no turning back and we’re certainly excited for another opportunity on Saturday. We feel we have the team to take it all the way.”
What turned out to be only goal of the game came in the game’s 21st minute. University defender Jaden Bullock turned the ball over deep in his own territory and LaSalle’s Mohamed Elshafie found himself one-on-one with University keeper Simon Mertnoff, who charged Elshafie to force him to shoot. Mertnoff managed to get a piece of the ball with his left hand but it trickled toward the net and slowly rolled in.
“It was definitely nerve-wracking for sure but that’s where all the hard work pays off,” said Sanchez. “When it comes to PKs, I try read hips and wound up just kind of guessing the right way. We’re a hard working team and that’s what pushed us through tonight.”
▪ Region 4-5A Final - Varela 2, Krop 0: It mattered little to the Varela boys’ soccer team that it finished third in its own district during the regular season. When it mattered most, the Vipers have come to life and delivered.
The latest hurdle cleared came in the drizzling rain at their field on Wednesday afternoon when they topped Krop 2-0 on a pair of second-half goals by Juan Valiente.
The win advances Varela (13-3-3), which won back-to-back state titles in 2007 and 2008, to its first state final four since 2011. The Vipers will be back on their field again on Saturday at 2 p.m. when they host Celebration (Orlando area) in a 5A state semifinal. The winner will advance to the 5A state final in DeLand on Feb. 23.
“I’ve got a great group of kids who have really worked hard and have picked the perfect time to be playing their best soccer,” said Varela head coach Juan Monge, whose team upset No. 2 seed Homestead in a district semifinal followed by wins over Coral Reef (district final), Coral Gables and Reef again to make it to Wednesday’s regional final. “They are doing all the things, including playing very disciplined soccer, that you need to be doing in order to advance deep into the postseason.”
Valiente scored his first goal off an assist from Christian Viera seven minutes into the second half and then followed up with an insurance goal with 15 minutes left to ice it. Keeper Andres Jaramillo pitched the shutout in front of the net for the Vipers.
Krop, which stunned Cypress Bay in the regional semifinals and was making only its second-ever regional final appearance, finished 14-3-2.
▪ Region 4-3A final - Plantation American Heritage 2, Cape Coral Mariner 1 (4-3 PKs): Being a defending state champion, the Plantation American Heritage boys’ soccer team had to dig down and use every bit of that pedigree on Wednesday night.
That’s when they had to travel to the west coast to take on Cape Coral Mariner and found themselves in a fierce overtime battle with Mariner that eventually went to penalty kicks before the Patriots, thanks to two big saves by keeper Reed Tillinghast, came through with a 2-1 (4-3 PKs) victory over Mariner.
Heritage (16-5-1) will now host Tampa Jesuit on Saturday at 7 p.m. in a Class 3A state semifinal.
A Morris Senior goal just four minutes into the game held up deep into the second half for Heritage before Mariner tied it just after the water break.
Heritage thought it had knocked in the game winner when Sebastian Vidarte converted a penalty kick in overtime when his shot bounced off the crossbar right back at him and he knocked it in. But officials huddled and disallowed the goal because, by rule, it did not hit a Mariner player before he hit it the second time.
“We’ve faced adversity all year long so tonight was just another test for us and we came through again,” said Heritage head coach Todd Goodman. “What we have learned this year that the only thing tougher than winning a state championship is perhaps defending one. But here we are, we’re still here and ready for the next challenge on Saturday.”
▪ District 8-2A semifinal - Miami Christian 110, Northwest Christian 30: Rivera 23, Cruz 18, Gonzalvo 14, Diaz 10, Santiago 9 (10 assists)
▪ Palmer Trinity 63, Somerset Silver Palms 38: PT(18-9): Thomas 17, Casares 10, Arrien 9, A. Waldman 9, Z. Friedland 6, G. Friedland 5, Young 4, Robertson 2, Corbo 1. SSP: Salazar 12, Bernard 12, Hernandez 9, Castro 5.
▪ North Miami 67, Krop 48: Richard Charles 20 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals; Carlos Hart 12 points, 5 rebounds, 5 steals.
▪ District 8-3A semifinal: Champagnat 67, Divine Savior 54: Champ: Rodriguez 26, Lopez 11, Vargas 8, Cartwright 6, Vargas 6, Diaz 6, Borell 6, Salzar 4; DS: Requena 21, Febies 11, Cornado 6, Pena 4, Ramirez 4, Velvarde 4, Diaz 4.
▪ Hebrew Academy 62, Somerset Prep 56: HA: Stein 17 (double-double with 13 rebounds), Goldring 13, Lurie 6, Ovaknin 3, Dobin 3, Saka 2; SP: Clermond 12, Herman 11, Gibbs 11, Bell 8, Brown 6.
▪ Calvary Christian 7, Westminster Academy 0
▪ MAST 8, Hialeah-Miami Lakes 0: Nicolas Rabolledo 8-0, Humberto Ramirez 8-0, Jorge Partidas 8-0, Andrew Hertfelder 8-0, Derrick Roseman 8-0; MAST 1-0
▪ Westminster Christian 7, Calvary Christian 0
▪ MAST 8, Hialeah-Miami Lakes 0: Francesca Saroli 8-0, Martina Ibrichimova 8-0, Carmen Isusi 8-0, Ashania Martinez 8-0, Tanya Mirchandani 8-1.
BOYS’ WATER POLO
▪ Belen 21, Coral Gables 4: Joey Balerdi 7 goals, 6 assists, 5 steals; Carlos Veccio 4 goals; Thomas Kurzan 3 goals, 3 assists; Alex Perez 3 goals, 2 assists; Pablo Puga 2 goals; Ignacio Aguilar, 1 goal, 2 assists, 4 steals; Zachary Callejas 1 goal, 1 assist; Adolfo Valencia 1 assist, 3 steals; Kevin Ferguson 14 blocked shots, 2 assists; BEL 1-0.