PCHS boys’ soccer: Miners, Wasps duel in a classic
HEBER — Wasatch midfielder Jonathan Wheatley pulled up to the stoplight on Heber City’s Main Street on his black motorcycle, still suited in his No. 20 jersey.
"We didn’t expect Park City to be that good," he said, smiling through his helmet.
As it turns out, the Miners are pretty good, and the defending 3A state champion Wasps can vouch for that. After all, the initial Region 10 rivalry matchup of the 2012 season wasn’t decided until the 100th minute of play — in extra time — Wednesday afternoon in Heber.
Unfortunately for Park City, Wasatch proved why it is considered one of the best teams in the state as senior midfielder Alex Espinoza — last year’s 3A MVP — did what special players do: Make special plays.
With the score deadlocked for 99 minutes and seconds away from heading toward a 0-0 draw, Espinoza lined up a free kick about 25 yards from Park City’s goal. With the wind blowing toward him, the miniscule playmaker made a big play, blasting a shot over the wall toward the upper-right corner of the net.
Park City freshman goalkeeper Dominic Croce, who had a phenomenal outing, was able to get a finger on Espinoza’s rifle shot, barely deflecting it into the crossbar. The ball was loose right in front of net, and as Croce attempted to vault up and make one more stellar save, Wasatch’s Hunter Ketterer headed it in the goal, cementing the Wasps’ dramatic 1-0 win.
"I couldn’t get up fast enough, so I just stuck my hand up as fast as I could, hoping I could get something on it," said Croce afterward, still attempting to catch his breath. "It’s hard. The whole team played really hard. My defenders did a lot to get us that far. I didn’t play perfect; no one played perfect.
"We’ll have another shot at them."
While Wasatch ran its record to an unblemished 7-0, Park City dropped to 5-3 overall and the battle of the last two undefeated teams in Region 10 play went the way of the Wasps.
"That was basically a state final game right there," said Park City head coach Jesse Blais.
Despite the score being deadlocked for more than an hour-and-a-half, the match wasn’t short on dramatics.
Park City senior forward Keenan McCall had two long-range strikes bounce off the post. The first came in the 37th minute when his right-footed shot from 20 yards out skipped past Wasatch goalkeeper Cooper Hall and glanced off the left post. McCall’s second chance, arguably Park City’s best of the day, came in the 63rd minute when he was able to out-run the Wasatch backline to go one-on-one with Hall. The Miners’ leading scorer planted his right foot and drilled a left-footed shot that ricocheted off the left post.
"We got in their heads," Blais said. "If Keenan would have finished that one, we would have won the game."
The drama continued in the 70th minute when Park City junior Garrett Bullough collided with Wasatch midfielder Domey Espinoza. Tempers flared as Espinoza left the match with an injury. Seconds later, Bullough was on the wrong end of a retaliation foul by Wasatch and the crowd erupted.
"Usually the crowds aren’t that big," Croce said, laughing. "It takes a little bit to get used to, but I’ve been in intense ones before."
As the match went to extra time, Croce’s afternoon became more difficult, but the youngster turned into a brick wall, stonewalling Alex Espinoza multiple times. At the start of the second extra-time period, Croce made three point-blank saves in a five-second span as the crowd applauded his efforts.
"He played out of his mind," Blais said, "and that’s what we need in order to beat a team like that because (the Wasps) put so much pressure on you. He had a great game."
Despite the pressure, Park City’s backline of Bullough, Joey Goodwin, Ramesses Florian and Sam Scudder was stellar throughout the match, often quelling the vaunted Wasatch attack.
"I did have a plan, but it wasn’t to put a special mark on a special person," Blais said. "It was just to play them so tight that they didn’t have room with the ball. Ramesses stepped up a lot of the time."
After the loss, Park City’s first-year head coach walked around and delivered an individual message to each dejected Miner.
"It’s going to turn some heads in the state," Blais said. "People are going to look at that result and think, ‘Wow, maybe (Wasatch) can be beat.’
"My team proved to themselves they can be a good team if they don’t make mistakes. We can beat anyone in the state."
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