Bio

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 AIA365.com, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Toughest part of soccer season here for Gators

The regular-season soccer finish line is just ahead, and Xavier Prep’s two-time defending state champion Gators are doing their best to put themselves in position for a spot in the 6A Conference state tournament.

A tough late-season schedule is serving as a challenge. The Gators fell to visiting Gilbert Perry, 2-0, on Xavier’s Senior Night on Tuesday (Jan. 29), in a rematch of last year’s title game. Perry is ranked No. 2 in power points by the Arizona Interscholastic Association behind Scottsdale Chaparral and is unbeaten at 18-0-3.

Xavier will finish up its regular season on Friday night (Feb. 1) at No. 5 Chandler Hamilton, another perennially strong program.

As of Wednesday morning (Jan. 30), Xavier (8-5-1) was No. 9 in power points. If the Gators maintain that position, they would have to win a “play-in’’ game on Feb. 7 to be one of the final 16 teams to reach the state tournament.

Play-in games allow teams 9 through 24 in the rankings one last attempt to qualify for state. So if the play-in games would have been held on Wednesday, Xavier would have had a home game against No. 24 Avondale La Joya. Whether that situation becomes a reality will be determined by the outcomes of the remaining games this week.

A win over Hamilton on Friday could move the Gators up a notch to No. 8 and have them avoid the play-in.

The state tournament begins on Saturday, Feb. 9 and if it qualifies, Xavier would have to play on the road.

Xavier coach Barb Chura said it is quite evident why Perry is among the 6A’s elite.

“They’re really good, they have some special players and they play at a high level,’’ she said.

“We had two or three great opportunities (to score), but didn’t quite make it. I would say that we competed really well, but we have to continue to do that. We have improved quite a lot from where we started the season.

“We have to continue to work hard and create more goal-scoring opportunities.’’

Perry scored one goal in each half. The first came with 10:15 left in the first half on a penalty kick. Goal No. 2 came early in the second half, on a deflection at the 37:45 mark.

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