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.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Gators survive duel in semi, play for soccer title

Xavier Prep has had a long history of soccer excellence, and it showed again on Tuesday night (Feb. 6) in the 6A Conference semifinals at Campo Verde High in Gilbert.

The Gators gave themselves a chance to win their second straight state championship by making Kyla Ferry’s first-half goal stand up against Chandler Hamilton for a 1-0 victory. It was the second 1-0 victory for the Gators over Hamilton this season.

Top-seeded Xavier advances to Saturday’s (Feb. 10) 11 a.m. title game against No. 2 Gilbert Perry at Campo Verde. Perry (22-2) handed the Gators (14-3-2) one of their losses, 3-0, on Jan. 9 at Perry. Perry advanced by defeating Phoenix Pinnacle on penalty kicks 5-3 after a 1-1 tie in regulation and overtime.

Hamilton had several good chances to score in the semi, but was stopped by Xavier senior goalkeeper Kinsey Ehmann or was whistled for offside on a few other occasions while trying to get a step in front of the blue and white-clad Gators.

As the first-half clock began to wind down, Xavier needed a spark.

It came from just about out of nowhere when sophomore Jocelyn Rupp sent a high-arcing ball toward the goal on a free kick. It came down just to the right of the goal and the ball was re-directed to Ferry, who was standing near the front of the net.

Ferry was able to send the ball past the goalkeeper and Xavier had a 1-0 lead with 6:48 left in the half.

Asked about the play afterward, Ferry said, “The ball came in and I think Abby (Hubbard, senior) headed the ball over and it landed right in front of me. Fortunately, I was able to finish it off. I was thinking, “Thank you for the gift.’ ’’

In the second half, Xavier became more aggressive, particularly on defense. Hamilton still had its chances, but had to work much harder for them.

Ferry, a junior who has committed to Colorado, is listed as a forward but is versatile enough to play in other spots, particularly midfield, where XCP coach Barb Chura had her working some of the time against Hamilton.

“We learned that (versatility) when she was a freshman. She was all over the place,’’ Chura said. “She has that ability to win balls in the air.’’

The coach repeated her claim that Ferry not only is one of the best players in Arizona, but also in the nation.

The contest was physical throughout, with players from both sides hitting the ground.

Some players might turn to the official for a call, but for the most part, the Gators got up and kept going. Freshman midfielder Olelade Adebayo was an example. She tumbled to the ground but got right up and went after the ball.

As Hamilton moved in for an attempt to tie, the ball headed toward the goal. It appeared that the ball might have just enough space to get past her and into the upper part of the net. But she jumped and reached high to flick the ball off her fingertips and back over the net. Crisis averted.

The Huskies rushed the net again as the game slipped away. They had another free kick and sent the ball toward the net. This time, senior defender Nicole Hook used her height to her advantage and headed the ball outside.

“When the ball drops in the box, you never know what’s going to happen, so you have to be ready,’’ Chura said.

“In the second half, we knew it was one of those games where we were just going to have to hold on.’’

The 2017-18 edition of the Gators is one of the more blue-collar teams Chura has had, she said.

“The older players have helped bring the younger ones along. They believe in them,’’ she said.

The win took a lot of energy out of the Gators, but they will have plenty of time to regroup.

“We worked hard today, and we are going to try to come out and play our best on Saturday,’’ Ferry said.

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