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Senior day win for Lady Aztecs

BARSTOW • The Lady Aztecs treated their fans to a fine performance on senior day.

Barstow girls soccer wrapped up its home schedule on Wednesday, taking on Victor Valley. The Aztecs scored in the game’s first 90 seconds, added another tally in the second half, and the defense did the rest as Barstow took a 2-1 Desert Sky League win.

It was a well-played game, particularly since the Aztecs are still dealing with injuries, as they have all season. Again there were players out of position, but the team didn’t let that stand in its way.

“What you see is the players starting to trust each other and protect each other,” said Barstow head coach Brenda Banks. “We’re still missing four players, but the younger players have been brought along by the older ones. The team has been helping itself get better.”

The Lady Aztecs got right to work, getting their first shot on goal in the first minute. A nice cross from Autumn Hazelett to Miranda Peralta led to Peralta’s shot being caught by the Jackrabbits’ keeper. That wake-up call was followed shortly after by Lexyss Aviles getting to a loose ball, dribbling in, and beating the goalie one-on-one.

The Barstow offense got off more shots in the first half. Melissa Cardenas made two good shots, both of which were just wide, and Aviles had a hard shot caught. The Jackrabbits picked up their lone goal with about 10 minutes left, leaving it a 1-1 tie at the half.

The visitors had a couple of other good scoring opportunities, but were mostly held in check by the Aztec defense. There was also the play of Ivana Espinoza, serving as keeper for the first time ever in the absence of injured starter Empriss Gardner. Espinoza came up with two big saves in the first 40 minutes, the second of which was a knock-away right in front, followed by a catch of the rebound.

“I have to give a shout out to Ivana, she’s never played goalie before. She was nervous, but her effort and heart changed the game for us,” said coach Banks. “She did a great job, but part of it was the lockdown on defense. The only one that got away was their goal.”

The coach was especially impressed with the defensive work of Marissa and Jasmine Ceballos.

“They really held down the defense in the back, they were both phenomenal,” said Banks. “When you trust your defense, your offense can do more.”

The winning goal came 15 minutes into the second half. It was from about 20 yards out, a high shot by Hazelett that bounced over the keeper’s head and into the net.

The win left the Lady Aztecs with records of 3-8-2, 3-1-2, with the Jackrabbits at 4-10-2, 3-3-1.

At halftime, the team recognized its six seniors - Hazelett, Noemi Martinez, Cardenas, Peralta, Bianka Griego and Jilda Diaz. While they were happy with the win, they were less so with the fact that the end of the season is in sight.

“It’s going by pretty fast,” said Cardenas, who is in her third year with the varsity squad. “I’m sad because I’m leaving, but I’ll be back to watch the team next year.”

Cardenas plans to stay nearby for college and play in San Bernardino, making it easy to keep up with the Lady Aztecs. As for this season, she says, “We’ve improved a lot. We brought up a lot of new players and they played like they’ve been on varsity for years.”

“I’m proud of the team and the way we adjusted,” said Peralta. “And the way we pick each other up, on and off the field.”

“I can’t be more proud of this group, that through the injuries and struggles they refused to give up,” said coach Banks. “They’ve never given up on themselves and they’re really playing soccer, in spite of all the setbacks.”

Banks pointed to things like girls playing out of position, and volunteering to do so.

“Through the season, I’ve had to bounce Autumn to every position except goalie, and she plays wherever she’s needed,” she said. “You can’t fault kids like that, and we have a few like that on this team, multiple unrelenting athletes.”

Though Wednesday’s was the last home game, there are three matches left in the season. The Lady Aztecs will be at Silverado on Tuesday, and at Granite Hills Wednesday and Thursday.

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