They pushed, shoved and knocked each other all around. Both sides took turns being incredulous at the officiating. Scoring chances were rare, and, naturally, the only goal was deflected in off a player from each team.
“It was another Gilbert-Highland game,” Tigers coach Ben Holzer said.
For the second consecutive meeting, the bounce went Gilbert’s way in a 1-0 victory against the Hawks on Friday which clinched the Fiesta Region title.
Just for fun, Holzer said he researched the past seven years’ worth of showdowns between this intracity rivalry. He counted 11 games which ended 1-0 and, of approximately 20 meetings, three matches were decided by more than one goal.
It was the first of two matches between the Gilbert schools. As part of a doubleheader with the boys, the stadium raised money to help medical expenses for Mesa Mountain View assistant Kevin Sullivan, who has leukemia and is now without insurance.
On the field, however, they went at it.
Gilbert’s Ligia Buitrago hit the crossbar in the game’s first six minutes, but with Chelsea Riedell and goalie Tessa Hamberlin in the back, the Hawks defense tightened.
Despite having three starters out with injuries (two are lost for the season) and losing another defender during the game, Gilbert’s did the same.
Finally, with 10 minutes left in regulation, Gilbert’s Alyssa Gutierrez was deep in the left corner of Highland’s territory, and her cross-field centering pass appeared to deflect off teammate Nicole Reese and a Highland defender simultaneously and found the left side of the net.
Of course, the Hawks didn’t fizzle without one final fury. Karisa Price, Amy Jarvis and Hilary Zenuk all put the pressure on the Tigers defense in the final three minutes. Price shot from 30 yards out went two feet wide right, and Zenuk’s blast from nearly 40 yards sailed high.
“We kept our composure in the back,” Holzer said. “A lot of young players in the back had to grow up fast.”
Since both teams aspire to a championship next month, the region crown was the immediate gratification, but the celebration on Gilbert’s sideline was sweet, but short.
“It’s not the ultimate goal,” Holzer said. “The region title is important to us, but those two weeks in February are all that matters.”