The Barstow girls soccer team closed out the regular season with an exciting match on Wednesday. Not only was it a well-played game, it sent the Aztecs into the postseason on the momentum of a nice victory.
Barstow hosted Silverado for the last game of its regular schedule, and fought off a late run by the Hawks to take a 4-2 win.
For most of the game, it looked like an easy one for the Aztecs. The home team scored twice in the first half, then added another goal early in the second, for a 3-0 lead with more than half the game gone. Silverado, though, had something left in the tank, and notched two tallies within two minutes of each other in the second. Suddenly it was a one-goal game, and what once had been a laugher was now either side's win for the taking.
It made for a very tense last 10 minutes, particularly for a team that's suffered more than its fair share of injuries this year, and is still short some players.
"We're down a few players because of injuries, and we didn't adjust well when they pushed up," said Aztecs coach Brenda Banks of the Hawks' late surge. "It took a minute for us to adjust; thank goodness we did so in time."
Up until those last few minutes, it was all Aztecs. Barstow controlled the action through most of the first half and came out of the gate strong, immediately peppering the Silverado keeper with what would amount to 24 shots by game's end.
Barstow got on the board about 15 minutes in. On a breakaway, Autumn Hazlett took a hard shot that was knocked away by the keeper, but Lexyss Rubio was in perfect position to take control of the rebound of the save, and chipped the ball over the line.
About five minutes later, the Aztecs made it a 2-0 game on Miranda Peralta's shot from about 30 yards out that lofted just over the goalie's head and into the net.
The second half was barely underway when the third goal was scored. This time it was Hazlett's turn, as she got a tally of her own that was basically a carbon copy of Peralta's, a shot just a bit too high for the keeper to reach. Hazlett came close again shortly after, taking a shot that banged off the crossbar.
With just over 10 minutes left, the Hawks made their run. It started with a goal by Bibi Enriquez, who scored with Aztecs keeper Empriss Gardener going the other way after making a save. Danielle Cordero followed under two minutes later, scoring on a breakaway, and it was suddenly a 3-2 match.
After being up by three and being in control for about 70 minutes, momentum now switched from the home team to the visitors. A loss or tie at this point would have been a hard outcome for the Aztecs to take.
Some players, though, weren't all that concerned. Senior Gabby Edmond had no doubt how things would end up.
"It was an intense game, but I knew we had it," she said. "We're strong, I knew we got it."
As for Banks, she was relieved when her team scored its fourth goal. Though the Hawks kept up the pressure, the final tally of the match went to Barstow, as Hazlett connected again with two minutes left.
"That did us a lot of good," said the coach. "Scoring again reminded us that it was our game."
Silverado finished with 15 shots, more than half of them coming in the final minutes. Gardener, who had to make only a few scoops in the first half, had to come up with some big plays down the stretch, and made 11 saves.
Hazlett has done particularly well of late, as Wednesday's game was her third in a row scoring two goals. With all the injuries, she was forced to play defense for much of the season, but was put back on the front line, and showed that forward is her natural position.
"She's clearly our most aggressive player," said Banks. "She has great body control. Eighty percent of her goals are off headers, which is very uncommon at the high school level."
"It was good experience playing defense, but I like being back at forward," said Hazlett. "We always knew we were a good team. I can't even imagine how good we would have been if the whole team had been healthy."
The Aztecs finished at 4-5-3, even while dealing with all those injuries. The team was missing three starters for most of the season, plus several bench players for various periods.
"That's been our Achille's heel," said coach Banks. "Over the six years I've been here, I've never seen so many injuries. We had to kind of figure out a new system."
The Aztecs were also a young squad, with only four seniors. At halftime, the team took some time to recognize those four - Clorinda Ochoa, Presley Hood, Amy Johnson, and Edmond - for all their contributions.
"Four seniors is not many for a soccer team," said Banks. "We're just now getting to the point where we can settle the ball and play. Our goals today were legitimate soccer goals."
"It was a great senior year," said Ochoa. "Everyone tried their hardest all season, which meant a lot to me as a captain."
The Aztecs are hoping to ride the momentum of this latest win into the postseason. The California Interscholastic Federation Tournament is up next, with the Barstow girls a wild card entry.
Banks is hoping for the best at a time when her team is playing its best soccer of the year.
"Today was a nice way to finish, especially heading into CIF's," said the coach. "This is a talented team. I hope we can keep it going."
The varsity squad won't have many holes to filll next year, and finding players shouldn't be a problem. The JV Aztecs also wrapped up their season on Wednesday, and finished in first place in the league.