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, January 26, 2022

Guess who? Leonard helps XCP reach tie with Perry

 Seismic soccer.

That’s how it seems to be these days between Xavier Prep and Gilbert Perry.

It began in the opening match of the 2020-21 season, when Perry eked out a 1-0 victory at home.

In the 6A state semifinals at Gilbert Campo Verde, Xavier won it 1-0 on Bella Leonard’s skyrocket goal on the final play of overtime, avoiding a penalty-kick winner-take-all.

Then, the 2021-22 version that came on Tuesday night (Jan. 25) at Xavier.

Perry scored a first-half goal, then Xavier tied it and went ahead in the second half. Perry sent the match into overtime with a late goal in regulation, and the two traded goals in overtime to wind up with a 3-3 finish.

Xavier is now 4-2-2, Perry 7-3-1.

The second half and overtime had more action than many other matches combined.

Seismic soccer.

The ground might have been rumbling a bit, with bodies flying, some sprawled on the artificial turf, numerous bloody scrapes and bruises appearing and what was thought to be a broken nose for a Xavier player.

“I think that might have been the best we have looked,’’ said Xavier coach Barb Chura.

“I think we dominated. They (Perry) just booted it, but we played soccer. They go for the direct boom ball and that’s their style. It works for them and I don’t want to take anything away from what they accomplished out there. It was a good match.’’

With about 16 minutes left in regulation, senior Hennessy Perez pulled the Gators even with a goal. At the 9:18 mark, Xavier took a 2-1 lead on a “Guess who’’ moment.

And the answer was, “Yes, that was a goal by Bella Leonard.’’

And it came as junior Larkin Thomason sent a brilliant pass from the left side that enabled Leonard, also a junior, to leap in front of the goal and put the ball into the net with a header.

Perry’s game-tying goal came with 1:33 left on a penalty kick.

As time began to wind down in the first 10-minute overtime, another “Guess who’’ moment gave Xavier a 3-2 lead when Leonard lofted a free kick that resembled the semifinal shot, arcing over the goalkeeper and into the net.

The second extra session moved on, and just when it seemed Xavier would be in line to walk away with a win, the lead official awarded Perry a penalty kick, and the Pumas’ Siera Herbert evened it at 3 with a no-doubter off her left foot with 4:54 left.

Both teams had a few more opportunities, including another chance for Leonard with 1:07 remaining, and the ball went wide left ever so slightly.

Chura was pleased with Leonard’s effort all night long.

“She had a great game,’’ Chura said. “I think it was her best game so far.’’

The Gators will play their final home match of the regular season on Friday night (Jan. 28) when they face Chandler Basha.

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