Sat, April 04

Region Champs!<br>For first time in program history, Marauders capture region tournament title

The celebration is on: Marauders Larry Badger and Ray Rivera(center) share some jubilation after Wednedsay's semifinal win over Flagstaff. Mingus beat the Eagles 2-0 and then topped Sinagua 2-0 on Thursday to win the schools first GCR tourney in boys soccer.

The Marauder varsity went on a tear this week, shutting out three foes and winning the school’s first Grand Canyon Region tournament championship trophy. Mingus blanked Page 5-0 on Tuesday, knocked off top-seeded Flagstaff 2-0 on Wednesday and then beat second-seeded Sinagua 2-0 in Thursday’s title game.

The Marauders’ eighth, ninth and 10th shutouts of the season couldn’t have come at a better time. Mingus finished fourth in the regular season GCR standings but will carry a number one seed into this week’s state 4A playoffs.

"Our last five (wins) have all been shutouts," coach Badger said. "We have scored 11 unanswered goals. The defense has really stepped up. You know the old adage that offense wins games but defense wins championships. Our offense has not been real pretty all year, but our defense has been stellar."

Call the Mingus offense opportunistic this week. The first goals against both Flagstaff and Sinagua came on quirky plays.

Against Flagstaff, the Marauders and Eagles had battled to a 0-0 tie through the entire first half and 29 minutes into the second. Then, Mingus senior Ray Rivera was awarded a throw-in along the right sideline. Rivera heaved one almost all the way to the Flag goal. The keeper fumbled it, the ball brushed off his chest and rolled into the net.

Rivera got credit for the score, and the complexion of the game changed dramatically over the final 11 minutes.

Against Sinagua, Mingus came out ultra-aggressive in the first three minutes, with Rivera stealing the kickoff and the Marauders pounding away at the Mustangs’ goal. Dane Mickelsen was awarded a free kick from about 35-40 yards away at the 37-minute mark.

Mickelsen, known for his powerful banana kicks, pounded a ball right at the Sinagua keeper. He caught it, but his momentum started carrying him back into his own goal. According to coach Badger, the keeper let go of the ball to avoid an own goal, and midfielder Larry Badger knocked it in for the score.

Again, that first goal changed the tone of the game, and Sinagua never fully recovered.

"I was concerned when we kind of faltered through our region," said coach Badger, referring to regular season losses to all three Flagstaff schools. "Our region has some more competitive teams than they give us credit for throughout the state. Maybe that was what we needed – to take those losses and come back and settle in."

James Lawton recorded the "icing" goal against Flagstaff, scoring with 15 seconds on the clock. Mickelsen served up a goal kick, Cody Rongo settled it and shuffled the ball to Lawton. Lawton then beat the Flagstaff keeper, who had pushed up out of the penalty box to try and help the Eagles’ offense.

Mickelsen, who plays the defensive position of sweeper, scored the second goal against Sinagua five minutes into the second half. Again, it was one of his famous banana kicks from about 50 yards away.

Mickelsen hit it perfectly from the left sideline, and the ball sailed just over the outstretched hands of the Sinagua goalie. Mingus surged ahead 2-0.

"The keeper left that spot open," Mickelsen said after the game. "Coach Badger said to just put it in the goal."

The Marauders nearly got a third goal off a similar play later in the half. Mickelsen’s ball came up a little short of the goal, and teammate Ross Ledbetter came crashing in. But the keeper was able to knock the ball out of danger.

Mingus played both the semifinals and championship game without starting goalkeeper Brady Flummer, a second-team all-region player. He hurt his knee in the win over Page and was unable to go Wednesday and Thursday.

That put Ethan Johnson, normally an offensive player, in the net. Lawton saw more playing time at forward, and Mitch Schumacher and Geiler Eckman moved to the outside.

Coach Badger admitted he wasn’t very confident in this lineup when the team first took the field against Flagstaff.

"I admonished them to mark players like they never marked before, play quickly through the midfield and shoot even when the smallest window of opportunity opened," the coach said. "I was scared to death. Flagstaff has scored more goals against our defense than any other team all season long (five in two previous games).

"The game began and Ray (Rivera) went immediately down the right side and cranked up a shot. That was my first indication that the team I’ve been looking for of late showed up."

Flagstaff began this past week ranked 10th in the state by The Arizona Republic. By virtue of their loss, the Eagles will go to state as a number three seed. They played at Tucson Catalina Foothills yesterday in first-round action.

Sinagua goes as a number two seed and also played Saturday against Douglas (results not available at press time).

Mingus will host its first state playoff game since the 2001 season on Tuesday at 4 p.m. The Marauders will face either Tempe of the East Sky Region or Cortez out of the Desert Sky.

In the program’s history, the Marauders have won just two regular season region championships – last season (tied with Flagstaff) and the 1992 campaign. A state playoff win on Tuesday would be an historical feat.

"This is without a doubt the best season we’ve had with Mingus soccer," Badger said. "We’ve had more victories (12-6-1 overall record), higher standing, better showings (in tournaments).

"It’s a really fun, good group of boys. It’s been a major joy to be able to spend the time out there with them.

"We’re just hoping we’re not done yet."

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