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7A Boys Soccer: Rogers High, Har-Ber boys advance to state finals

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Photographs by Andy Shupe

Rogers High’s Alex Valdez (2) and Rogers Heritage’s Pedro Garcia vie for the ball Saturday during a Class 7A state tournament semiÿnal at Mayo-Thompson Stadium at Northside High School in Fort Smith. Visit nwadg.com/photos for more photographs from the match.

FORT SMITH -- Rogers High's Jessie Ramirez's performance in the 7A state semifinals against Rogers Heritage won't show up in any box score. But Mounties coach Stephen Peck was sure proud of his play.

Ramirez did not score or assist on a goal in Rogers' 3-1 win over the War Eagles. His aggressive play, though, and constant pressure on the back line of Heritage's defense led to a pair of goals and the Mounties cruised to their first-ever state finals appearance.

"It's great. It's something we can hopefully build a legacy on," Rogers coach Stephen Peck said. "We've made it five times (to the semifinals) and now we're finally going on to the next step. I'm excited for the guys."

With 14 minutes, 17 seconds to play in the opening half, Rogers' Alex Valdez netted one of his two penalty-kick goals of the match after Ramirez was tripped up in the box by Heritage's Colton Gonzalez. Rogers extended its lead midway through the second half as Ramirez was taken down outside the box, setting up Alex Balderas' free-kick goal.

"He started using his teammates and not just his skill and ability -- which he has a lot of," Peck said of Ramirez. "He really used his teammates well today."

Ramirez spearheaded Rogers' attack, which totaled 12 shots on goal. Heritage keeper Andrew Montoya was kept busy in the net and made nine saves in a losing effort. Peck received a strong effort from his goalkeeper, Anthony Garcia, as well.

"He saved us six or seven times," he said. "(A skilled goalie) is worth his weight in gold, and he's a good one."

The win was Rogers' third against its rival this season. Now, the Mounties are on to next week's state championship match.

"It was neat because either way, Rogers was going to make history this year," Peck said. Christian (Saavedra) is one of my former players, and it's just fun for the city, I think."

Springdale Har-Ber 3, Springdale High 1

It was in the back of the Wildcats players' minds and, admittedly, in the back of Har-Ber coach Cory Butler's mind. Har-Ber's 2016 state semifinals loss to Springdale fueled Butler's club for another championship run this season.

Saturday, the Wildcats (18-3) exacted a bit of revenge and knocked off the Red'Dogs, 3-1, to advance to the school's second state championship appearance.

"It was in the back of my mind," Butler said, "but realistically, it was just another game and another game we wanted to win. They played well to do it."

Jesus Zizumbo got Har-Ber on the board in the first half with a header after a corner kick ricocheted in his direction. Zizumbo was suspended for the Wildcats' quarterfinal win vs. Conway, and said he was just happy to be back on the field with his teammates.

"It felt amazing," Zizumbo said with a smile. "I missed being out there yesterday with all of my boys, and I'm so happy for the win. We're in the finals, baby. That's good."

Esteban and Ivan Fuentes, as they did in Friday's quarterfinals match, came up huge for Har-Ber in the semifinals, adding their seconds goals of the state tournament in the second half to put the match out of reach. Ivan scored Har-Ber's second goal just under five minutes into the second half and Esteban put the bow on top 11 minutes later.

"They're getting more confident with each other," Butler said of the Fuentes'. "They're both getting more confident overall individually and you can see it in their play."

Har-Ber will face Rogers in next week's state championship match with each school eyeing its first state title. The Wildcats' seniors were freshmen the last time Har-Ber played for it all. Butler is hoping for a vastly different outcome this time around.

"It's got to be extremely special for them," he said. "Last time it didn't go so well, so hopefully this time they'll have a better result."

Sports on 05/14/2017

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