In their 10th all-time meeting since 1990, Yavapai College and Mercer County Community College of New Jersey’s soccer teams met on Wednesday to determine which club from Pool C would advance to the 2017 NJCAA Division I National Championship Tournament semifinals.
Going into the rivalry showdown between the two national powers at Mountain Valley Park in Prescott Valley, the series was tied at 4-4-1, with every one of those matches being played either in Trenton, New Jersey, or Tyler, Texas.
At least for one afternoon, competing on their own turf, the Roughriders left no doubt who had the better squad.
Third-seeded Yavapai grabbed a 2-0 lead within the first 17 minutes of regulation and went on to crush sixth-seeded Mercer County, 7-2, to win Pool C and qualify for the national semis for the first time since 2013. The Roughriders have played in Trenton 32 times since 1990 – the most of any place other than Arizona.
“We’ve been waiting 29 years for Mercer to play in Yavapai County, and it was great to see the history and tradition that the two programs had built up over the last three decades,” said 29th-year Roughriders coach Mike Pantalione, whose 2017 bunch has outscored the opposition, 16-2, in its first two nationals matches and is 6-0 in the postseason. “It was important to get off to a fast start, and the players certainly responded.”
Yavapai (23-2-3), a winner of 11 straight matches, will face South District champion and defending national champion No. 4-seeded Tyler Junior College of Texas in the semifinals at 3 p.m. Friday at Mountain Valley Park.
Tyler nipped Indian Hills of Iowa, 2-1, in double overtime Wednesday.
Since 2009, Tyler has played for the national title seven times, winning five championships – including 2014, when Prescott and Prescott Valley first played host. Yavapai owns a 4-0-0 record versus Tyler since 1991. Three of those meetings came at nationals.
In pool play earlier Wednesday, eighth-seeded Pima, the West District runner-up, upset top-seeded and previously unbeaten St. Louis Community College, 3-1, to advance to the semis. Pima of Tucson will lock horns with Schoolcraft of Michigan, a 2-0 winner over Monroe (New York), in Friday’s other semi at noon.
“We’ve been saying for quite a few years that this [ACCAC] is the top conference in the country, and I’m very happy for Pima program to join us in the final four,” Pantalione said. “It says a lot for our league, and it certainly says a lot for the two programs.”
West District champion Yavapai’s defense, which had posted 13 shutouts in 27 matches before Wednesday, remained stellar against Mercer, despite allowing two goals to the Northeast District titlist Vikings. But the Roughriders’ potent attack stole the show, adding to its national record for single-season goals scored with 143 goals. Yavapai’s 1993 team had held the previous record of 134.
“They have a great team, and the attack has great players,” Mercer captain Emiliano Fama said of Yavapai. “Unfortunately, we conceded a goal [early], and it was unlucky. But they were better than us, and they deserve to be in the semifinals.”
Attacker David Gandara led the Roughriders with two goals, scoring both in the first half. Jose Perez Flores followed with a goal and two assists. John Scearce and reserve Angel Lujan notched a goal and an assist each. Defender Ricardo Nunez-Arellano and Will Baynham registered a goal apiece. Reserve Ziyad Fares chipped in with an assist.
“Building up to the game against Mercer, we just were expecting a really strong squad – much stronger than Monday’s team [9-0 win over Waubonsee of Illinois],” Scearce said. “We got the opportunity on the long throw-in in the first 3 minutes and we took advantage of it [when Nunez-Arellano scored]. They didn’t expect it, and that’s what opened the game up for us.”
Added Gandara, “We were ready for a big game, and that early goal really helped us out. It took a weight off our shoulders, and after that we just kept going.”
Mercer did not score until the 22nd minute, when midfielder Eichii Yamaguchi of Osaka, Japan, scored on an assist from Kotaro Okada to cut the Yavapai lead to 2-1. But that’s as close as the Vikings would get. Gandara knocked in the second of his two goals in the 27th minute, and the rout was on.
In the second half, Yavapai scored three consecutive goals in a span of 9 minutes behind Baynham, Perez Flores and Scearce. Leading 5-1 with 24 minutes
2017 NJCAA Division I Men’s Soccer National Championship Tournament
Game 9: #8 PIMA (19-4-3) 3, #1 St. Louis (23-1-0) 1
Game 10: #2 Schoolcraft (17-0-0) 2, #7 Monroe (13-2-2) 0
Game 11: #3 YAVAPAI (23-2-3) 7, #6 Mercer County (20-4-1) 2
Game 12: #4 Tyler (21-2-0) 2, (5) Indian Hills (18-3-0) 1, 2OT
Game 13: #8 PIMA vs. #2 Schoolcraft, noon
Game 14: #4 Tyler vs. #3 YAVAPAI, 3 p.m.
Game 15: Winner of #8 PIMA-#2 Schoolcraft vs. Winner of #4 Tyler-#3 YAVAPAI, 3 p.m.
NJCAA Division I National Championship Tournament pool-play soccer match Wednesday at Mountain Valley Park Amphitheater in Prescott Valley
1st 2nd F
MC 1 1 — 2
YC 3 4 — 7
Shots on goal 22 18
Saves 2 6
Corner kicks 6 5
Fouls 6 14
Cards 3 0
SCORING – 4th minute, YC: Nunez-Arellano (Scearce); 17th minute, YC: Gandara (Fares); 22nd minute, MC: Yamaguchi (Okada); 27th minute, YC: Gandara (Perez Flores); 57th minute, YC: Baynham (Perez Flores); 59th minute, YC: Perez Flores (unassisted); 66th minute, YC: Scearce (Lujan); 73rd minute, MC: Steglich (unassisted); 84th minute, YC: Lujan (unassisted). GOALIES – MC: Guimaraes Cavalcante (90 mins., 7 goals, 2 saves); YC: Trump (65 mins., 1 goal, 3 saves); Motzkus (20 mins., 1 goal, 2 saves); Coffin (5 mins., 0 goals, 1 save).
left in regulation and playing a solid chunk of its reserves, Yavapai continued to control the match. After Mercer’s Rayan Steglich tallied in the 73rd minute, Lujan tacked on a goal in garbage time 11 minutes later for the 7-2 edge that stood.
“We knew that if we could get a couple early ones [goals], then they would eventually have a little tendency of getting mad within themselves,” Perez Flores said. “But they kept us on our toes as well, so we can’t take any credit away from them.”
This truly was a matchup between titans. Since the NJCAA began conducting national tournaments for men’s soccer in 1961, Mercer (formerly Trenton Junior College) has captured eight national titles. Since 1989, when Pantalione established Yavapai’s program, it has won seven national championships.
“It brought back some memories of competing with the two programs – they’re a quality side,” Pantalione said.
If Yavapai can beat Tyler and advance to the 2017 championship match at 3 p.m. Saturday, the Roughriders will get their chance to equal Mercer. Yavapai would play in the program’s 14th national title match. The Roughriders have been national runner-up six times.
“The approach is to regroup and refocus on our next opponent,” Pantalione said, “and it’s remarkable that the players associated with this program have been guaranteed 19 final-four finishes.”
Doug Cook is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter at @dougout_dc. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2039.