SCOTTSDALE - A ton more offense, all kinds of momentum and balanced scoring. Yeah, the Northwest Christian Crusaders finally get their shot at another state title.
The 3A state tournament’s No. 1 seed put an emphatic mark on their Final Four matchup Friday night at Coronado High School in Scottsdale where the Cru proved more than the 5-seed Gilbert Christian Knights could handle in their 5-1 victory. That sets the stage for a championship clash, on this same field, Saturday against 3-seed Scottsdale Christian.
It’ll be a quick turnaround, after Saturday night’s semifinal was delayed 45 minutes from an earlier playoff match in the day going to overtime. With the Final Four matchup ending at 10 p.m. Friday, the title game kickoff arrives at 2 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s gonna be a battle in...” NW Christian head coach Jeff Penzone said Friday night, stopping only to look at his watch, “less than 20 hours.”
The Crusaders have to figure as favorites in the championship match, and not just because they improved to 15-0 on the season, and not just because they’ve won 39 of their past 40 matches overall going back to 2019 when the program captured the 3A state title.
Their firepower may be the big difference.
NW Christian got two goals Friday night from sophomore forward Ellie Johannes, who added to her total with 49 goals this season, which leads all classifications in Arizona girls soccer and entered the match as the fourth highest high school total in the country.
The Cru also got three other scores on the night, and have scored more goals in their first three tournament matches (17) than all the other teams in their top half of the bracket combined (12).
“They work hard to get themselves positioned correctly,” Penzone said of his side, which struck first Friday night as it has all year long. NW Christian has scored first in every match but one this winter season. “That’s always a good thing, that you’re able to set the pace for your own team.”
Johannes fed a pretty cross to fellow sophomore forward Tatum Berkwitt, who poked it in inside the box to open the scoring halfway through the first half. Johannes is still playing with -- although seems unaffected by -- a cast on her left wrist after suffering a break in the team’s 7-1 win over Veritas Prep back on Feb. 18.
The Crusaders then got a late burst just before the halftime whistle. Johannes flared a penalty kick safely into the net’s left corner, followed by junior mid Beasley Floyd cashing in a corner kick opportunity to give NW Christian two quick goals in a span of less than two minutes to lift the bracket’s top seed to a commanding 3-0 advantage at the break.
Ten minutes into the second half, junior mid Makenzi Wisely booted a 40-yard kick that at first looked like a lob pass but just kept going and going and going until it sailed with perfect placement into the back left corner of the net.
Already staked to the big lead, the Crusaders got a final score when Johannes finished off their offense with 27 minutes left to play.
Gilbert Christian -- the defending 3A state champions who made it through the first two rounds with a pair of one-goal wins - managed to get on the board late. Senior Sarah Johnson made good on an impressive 30-yard strike from straightaway to break up the shutout bid.
It’s now onto a battle with Scottsdale Christian with the championship trophy on the line. The two teams haven’t met this year, but did face off last winter when NW Christian came away with an easy 7-0 win.
Scottsdale got past 15-seed AZ College Prep 2-1 in the earlier semifinal Friday night, where Penzone and the team got a chance to do some in-person scouting, in addition to the game film they’ve already seen on their title game opponent.
“They’re a good side. They’ve got players that work hard,” he said. “We’re gonna do the best that we can to beat them tomorrow, but it’s gonna be a battle.”