By FRANCISCO ZAPATA
The No. 2 Pima Community College men’s soccer team secured its third consecutive Region I, Division I championship Oct. 29 in a 3-1 home victory over the No. 5 Phoenix College Bears.
PCC (18-3-1) now heads to a four-team NJCAA West District Tournament in Cheyenne, Wyoming on Nov. 4.
The No. 9 ranked Aztecs will play No. 16 Trinidad State Junior College (15-4) in the second semifinal match-up on Nov. 4 at 3 p.m.
The first semifinal game will feature host No. 10 ranked Lamarie County Community College (17-2) vs. College of Southern Nevada (15-3-2) at noon.
The winners will advance to the West District championship game on Nov. 5 at 12:30 p.m. and are guaranteed a spot in the NJCAA Division I National Tournament in Tyler, Texas. The national tournament is Nov. 14-19 at the Pat Hartley Soccer Complex.
Oct. 29: PCC 3, Phoenix College 1
Pima’s championship win marked its third straight NJCAA Region I, Division I title. The Aztecs have now defeated the Bears in the last three championship games.
In comments before the game, head coach Dave Cosgrove predicted a battle.
“I think Phoenix College has the best talent, player-for-player,” Cosgrove said. “They’re playing unbelievable soccer.”
The first half was scoreless as each team struggled to find its groove. Both teams narrowly missed scoring opportunities as shots hit the goal post multiple times.
The action-packed second half opened with a Pima scare as sophomore Hector Banegas was carted off the field in the 50th minute. Banegas returned to the game 15 minutes later.
A minute later, the Bears scored the game’s opening goal.
Pima freshman Gavino Carranza helped the Aztecs respond when he scored three minutes later directly off a free kick. He was later named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
At the 56-minute mark, freshman Julian Gaona converted a pass received from sophomore Justin Stoermer into a 2-1 lead for Pima.
The Aztecs put their stamp on the championship when freshman A.J. Valenzuela scored in the 80th minute.
Valenzuela was assisted by sophomore Lorenzo Rodriguez, who had an impressive outing after replacing injured freshman Chris Cooper in the first half.
Sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Anderson made three saves to keep the Bears from clawing back.
The Aztecs split with the Bears during the regular season. Pima beat Phoenix 2-1 at home in August but was shut out 4-0 on the road in early October.
Oct. 27: PCC 2, AWC 1
Pima reached the championship game by eliminating No. 3 Arizona Western College 2-1 in a Region I, Division I semifinal home game on Oct. 27.
Banegas scored the winning goal during a game in which emotions ran high.
Cooper scored a header in the eighth minute, with fellow freshman Andrew Bianchi providing the assist. Pima went into the halftime break up 1-0.
The second half was action-packed with aggressive play from both sides. The referee stopped play numerous times due to fouls, and disciplined players while trying to control the sidelines.
The opposing coaches engaged in verbal confrontations regarding the physical play. Cosgrove was intent on protecting his players, whom he felt were on the bad end of many foul challenges.
“Western played fantastic, I know it was competitive,” Cosgrove said. “And a little bit out of what’s acceptable.”
The Matadors’ Fabian Munoz was the villain for Pima due to multiple fouls that had the packed Kino North Stadium fans shouting at officials.
After Munoz leveled the score for the Matadors in the 76th minute, he ran in front of the Pima bench to celebrate. He kissed the team patch on his jersey while teammates rallied around him.
The Matadors lost their composure late. Three AWC players were temporarily removed from the game due to picking up yellow cards for arguing with the official over a foul call.
Banegas took advantage of the substitutions when he beat the goalkeeper to the far post to score a dramatic game-winning goal for Pima in the 88th minute. Bianchi provided a pass to earn the assist.
The stadium erupted as Banegas ran towards the Pima bench in triumph, where he was tackled by teammates in jubilation. The victory was Cosgrove’s 300th win as Pima head coach.
“I think discipline makes a big difference in games,” Cosgrove said “We were disciplined and they weren’t, and they paid the price for it.”
The Aztecs played to a scoreless tie in Yuma in September and beat the Matadors 6-0 in the final regular-season game on Oct. 20 at Kino.
Banegas’ goal in the semifinal game was his 17th of the season, though he refused to take full credit for winning the game.
“We’re a team,” he said. “It’s not just me, it’s all of us.”
PCC advanced to the playoffs with seven straight victories.
Oct. 13: PCC 3, Glendale CC 0
Pima traveled to Glendale Community College and secured its fourth consecutive victory with a 3-0 shutout.
Freshman Julian Gaona continued his stellar season with two goals in the first five minutes. Sophomore Kyle VanAlstine and freshman Tatsuma Yuki provided the assists.
Cooper scored in the 71st minute off an assist by Banegas.
Sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Anderson provided three saves.
The Aztecs swept the home-and-away series versus Glendale, beating the Gauchos at Kino North Stadium in a 5-4 thriller in September.
Oct. 19: PCC 3, Mesa CC 1
Pima men’s soccer picked up a 3-1 home victory over the Mesa Community College Thunderbirds.
Banegas scored from the penalty spot in the 26th minute after Cooper was brought down in the penalty box.
Cooper continued to stretch the Thunderbirds’ defense by taking on defenders with his speed and quick feet. He scored the game’s second goal in the 60th minute off an assisted by Yuki.
The Thunderbirds capitalized on a penalty kick in the 73rd minute, cutting Pima’s lead to 2-1.
While Mesa was pushing forward for the equalizing goal, Pima mounted a counter attack with 42 seconds remaining.
Gaona received the ball just past midfield, then outraced three defenders toward the goal. He shot from the right side of the penalty area and struck the top left corner of the net.
“It was a great game to prepare for the playoffs,” Gaona said.