TALENT — Victor Martinez seized an opportunity in a match that didn’t have very many.
The Class 4A boys soccer quarterfinal match between host Phoenix and Marist of Eugene appeared headed for overtime in a shutout before Martinez’s quick feet changed everything.
The Phoenix talented freshman made a steal near midfield and charged past the Spartan defense up the left flank in the waning minutes of the scoreless contest. As he attacked the penalty box, Martinez was taken down and awarded a penalty kick with 3 minutes, 34 seconds remaining in the match. Martinez booted a rolling shot past Spartans’ all-Sky Em League goalie Sam Bell and the Pirates came away with a 1-0 victory at Colver Field Saturday.
Top-ranked Phoenix (14-0-1) advances to its first semifinal appearance since losing to LaSalle 4-0 in 2012 and will host North Marion (9-4-3) at U.S. Cellular Community Park Tuesday.
Sky Em League champion Marist (10-4-1) played the game in a more defensive mode by packing their defensive zone with 10 players when the Pirates advanced into its portion of the pitch. Much of the game was played in the middle of the field. While both teams had their threatening moments, neither goalie was forced to make a difficult save.
The winning goal developed rapidly and Marist didn’t have time to respond with numbers.
“I stole it in the midfield and saw a breakthrough and I went for it,” said Martinez, who has a team-high 17 goals. “I knew the defender was coming and he fouled me from behind.”
As Martinez got to about 10 yards from the Spartan goal, defender Grayson Ferrell collided with the speedy 5-foot-5 forward and was called for the penalty.
“I pretended to kick it to the right to confuse their goalie then I kicked it to the left,” explained Martinez.
Phoenix head coach Dennis Flenner sensed Martinez was on the verge of doing something exceptional.
“They were getting pretty anxious because Vic was bringing it,” said Flenner about the decisive play. “He was going to either take a shot or they were going to take him down.”
Joel Garcia-Cervantes, the Spartans’ top scorer with 16 goals and league player of the year, never got the kind of chance that allowed Martinez to score. Whenever Garcia-Cervantes possessed the ball, the back line wouldn’t let the senior get free to penetrate deep into the Pirates’ box.
Phoenix’s defense held stout until the final whistle to register their 10th shutout of the season. Senior Joseph Navas and sophomore Dan Martinez, Victor’s brother, were major factors closing down the Spartans’ attack.
“The biggest thing was lack of communication that led to our defenders being put in that tough position,” said Marist second-year coach Rodrigo Hernandez. “Phoenix kept their discipline.”
Phoenix senior goalie Moises Rivera was active in the net — coming out to get through balls and catching all three Marist corner kicks in the air.
“I was kinda scared because the defense made a couple of little mistakes,” said Rivera. “When you come out you have to commit to it and do your thing. It’s good we had another clean sheet.”
Johnny Esquivel was constantly pushing the ball forward to try to get the Pirates’ offense in gear. While Esquivel was able to move the ball into the Spartans’ zone, he was eventually shut down.
“I was looking at the open space and attacking as hard as possible,” the senior Esquivel said. “We couldn’t finish but luckily Victor got the goal.”
“That was a good run,” added Esquivel. “He went to open space. It was a smart play.”
The Pirates demonstrated the patience needed to win big games.
“We wanted to keep the game in front of us,” said Flenner, in his 24th year as Phoenix coach. “We didn’t press as much as we normally do. I thought we were probably going to overtime. It was awfully nerve-racking.”
That was until Victor Martinez made his brilliant individual effort.
Reach reporter Frank Silow at 541-776-4480 or firstname.lastname@example.org