PHOENIX - Following 10 games in 35 days, the Ironwood boys soccer team is not looking forward to three days off until Saturday's state final.
The Eagles want to get back on the pitch as soon as possible and who can blame them. A season already truncated by the coronavirus was compressed further by the Glendale high school's near two week closure for COVID-19.
Playing so frequently sharpened 5A #3 seed Ironwood (11-1) into a lethal attacking force, which was unleashed again in Tuesday's state semifinal at Desert Vista High School. #10 Tucson Sunnyside (13-4) scored the opening goal in the fourth minute, and promptly was buried by three Eagles goals in the next 13 minutes.
"They're showing me every day in practice and in games that they're getting that much closer. I still don't believe it at times because I still think that we have some things we need to do better, still. That's just the perfectionist in me and them. Winning a game like this a lot of teams would celebrate. I don't think that this is good enough for them," Ironwood coach Tim Beck said.
Ironwood raced away with a 5-1 win to return to its first state final since 2011 and it was all about Adrian. Junior midfielder Adrian Osornio had a hat trick for the Eagles and senior forward Adrian Sanchez scored their other two goals, in addition to assisting on two of Osorino's.
Ironwood won its 10th straight game since its school-wide coronavirus pause and all but two have been by more than one goal. In that run the Eagles outscored opponents 46-10 and in three playoff wins the margin has been 13-2.
"After we played Sunrise and scored in the last minute to win. The next game after that we kept winning. The same thing with Gilbert, we scored in the last seconds to win and it got us stronger," Sanchez said.
In the 1 p.m. final on Saturday, March 20 back at Desert Vista Ironwood runs into the only 5A team on a similar hot streak, #1 Queen Creek Casteel (15-1). The Colts lost their second to last game March 2 to #2 seed Independence. In the four games since, including three playoff routs, the Colts blitzed their foes 25-4.
"We had to get the formation right and our front group is very talented. They create a lot of opportunities and they finish a lot of opportunities. As coaches we just step aside and let them be them," Beck said.
Ten years after the perennial power's last state final appearance and its third state title, the return trip is one to savor.
Ironwood reached the 5A semifinals in three of the past four seasons and went through particularly difficult losses in 2017 and 2020.
"Last year we lost and none of us want to feel that way again," Osornio said.
This time around there was little time to gnash teeth. Sunnyside earned a corner in fourth minute and sophomore Ivan Felix heads it in.
Ironwood replied almost immediately and relentlessly. In the seventh minute a long ball pulled out the Blue Devils keeper and he slid to block Sanchez’s shot. Another shot deflected to Osornio whose shot on an open net banged off the crossbar and in.
Nineteen seconds later Sanchez drilled a shot off a Sunnyside defender and in for a 2-1 Eagles lead.
"Mentally this team is further ahead than I ever expected them to be," Beck said. "These guys deserve the credit for getting in position to finish."
The game settled down for about ten minutes until Ironwood earned a corner. Sanchez struck it to dip right into the center of the bodies in front of the net and Osornio half volleyed it in.
The next Eagles corner was on the left side in the 36th minute. Sophomore Colin Beebe hit it for the far post and Sanchez scored with a header.
"Since the beginning of the season before every single game we have a pregame practice that we work 30 minutes on set pieces. We ahve tall players and confident players that can get the headers," senior midfielder Esteban Ardon said.
His hand was in all four goals and Sanchez dominated the rare lulls in the first half, baffling the Blue Devils with his roulette dribble move.
Sunnyside peppered the penalty area with shots early in the second half, but they either went wide or were fairly routine saves for senior goalkeeper Ethan Shreeve.
To cap the afternoon, senior midfielder Esteban Ardon struck a 66th minute free kick from near midfield with stunning precision and Osornio headed in his hat trick.
"I thiught my keeper was big. Esteban held down the middle better than any player I've seen this year. They're a very good program we played," Beck said. "Every team is special to me. And the program is bigger than any of us. We've been together longer but haven't played as many games. They bring me something different every time and I love them for that."