DON KETCHUM is a native of Phoenix. He was a sportswriter for The Arizona Republic/The Phoenix Gazette for nearly four decades. He covered high school sports on several occasions as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State sports. From 2008-14, he was a staff writer for, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Xavier soccer turns up the heat, heads for semis

Whether it’s by Uber, Lyft, school bus or even stagecoach, Xavier Prep’s Gators will make sure they get to Gilbert Campo Verde High in time for Wednesday’s (Feb. 8) 6A Conference state soccer semifinal.
Nothing is going to keep them from reaching their destination.
Second-seeded Xavier survived a hot, grueling, physical quarterfinal confrontation with visiting No. 7 seed Phoenix Pinnacle, 3-1, on Saturday afternoon (Feb. 4).
Xavier (12-2-3) advances to the 7 p.m. semifinal against No. 6 Gilbert Perry, which defeated Chandler High 2-1. Xavier defeated the Pumas 1-0 in a tight match on Jan. 19 at Perry.
Wednesday’s 5 p.m. semifinal will feature No. 9 Tempe Corona del Sol and No. 5 Phoenix Desert Vista. Corona stunned top-seeded Chandler Hamilton 2-1 on Saturday and Desert Vista, the defending big-school champion, stopped No. 13 Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor 2-0.
The temperature for the Xavier match on Saturday was in the mid-70s, but likely was at least 10 degrees hotter with the artificial surface at Petznick Field radiating the heat. Both teams were physical – the referees let them play for the most part – and were spent at the final horn.
The two teams had battled to a 2-2 tie on Jan. 13.
Sophomore forward Kyla Ferry again played an essential role for the Gators, scoring two goals and assisting on a third by senior forward Quiqui Hita.
Ferry scored her first goal on a wide shot from the right side with 25 minutes left in the first half and many Xavier fans probably thought that there would be more to come in a comfortable victory.
But Gators coach Barb Chura was anything but comfortable with the score still 1-0 at the break.
“We knew the weather would be warm, but we didn’t play our best in the first half. We had a few difficulties, and part of that was Pinnacle. They did a good job,’’ Chura said.
“The second half was much better for us. We were not letting them penetrate the middle.’’
The contest continued to be tight for much of the second half. With 11:44 left, Ferry headed in a corner kick from Abby Hubbard for a 2-0 lead. About 5 ½ minutes later, Hita took a nice pass from Ferry on the right side and sent it home.
Pinnacle scored with 5:30 left in the match, but time had started to slip away from the Pioneers.
Chura was very complementary on what Ferry brings to the table. Ferry does not play like a sophomore, but closer to a senior.
“She started every game last year, but I started her out of position,’’ Chura said. “Now she is right in the middle of everything. She is always around the ball. She is one of the best finishers around. She played at that same level in club ball against some demanding competition.
“She is just a humble, coachable kid. We keep telling her, “if you get a shot, take it.’ ’’
The contest was back and forth, just as in the previous match against Pinnacle, Chura said.
Xavier’s back line also did a good job keeping the ball away from goalkeeper Kinsey Ehmann most of the time.
Chura pointed to junior Nicole Hook as a big factor in helping the Gators escape trouble by getting the ball out and down the field.
The coach hopes that her team’s momentum will carry over to the next match and hopefully two.
“There’s something about this team,’’ Chura said. “It’s one of the best I’ve had, and I’ve been doing this a long time. We seem to have the ‘it’ factor.
“I think that if they could do it, the girls would keep playing even after next week. They don’t want it to end.’’

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