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Iturriaga's late kick sends Northside to championship match

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Photographs by Ben Goff

Luis Paredes (left) of Fort Smith Northside embraces Jose Vega of Springdale High after Northside’s victory Saturday in the Class 7A state semifinal match at Gates Stadium in Rogers.

ROGERS -- Ricky Iturriaga bounced up and down high atop a pile of Fort Smith Northside teammates.

Luis Mendez of Fort Smith Northside celebrates Saturday as the final buzzer sounds during a semifinal match against Springdale High in Rogers.

The senior earned his joyride after drilling a high, hard kick into the right corner of the net in the 76th minute to lead the Grizzlies to a 2-1 win against Springdale High in the semifinals of the Class 7A state boys soccer tournament Saturday at Gates Stadium.

7A State Soccer Tournament

Boys

At Rogers Heritage

FS Northside 2, Springdale High 1

Rogers High 1, LR Catholic 0

Championship Match

At Razorback Field, Fayetteville

FS Northside vs. Rogers High

Girls

Bryant 1, Bentonville High 0

Rogers High 2, FS Southside 1

Championship Match

At Razorback Field, Fayetteville

Bryant vs. Rogers High

Note: Times and dates for state championship matches will be determined later today.

With the match tied at 1-1, Iturriaga got a feed from Oved Lopez in a crowded box and saw an opening. His powerful kick went cleanly into the top right corner.

"The forward, Geo (Lopez), just touched it to me and I shot it in," Iturriaga said. "I've scored like three goals from that distance before. This feels really good to be going to state."

Northside coach Mauricio Maciel said Iturriaga positioned himself perfectly to be in position for the match-winning shot.

"Good players, they just know where to be, they have a sense of where the ball might be going," Maciel said. "He knew exactly where to go."

Nationally ranked Springdale (19-2-1) ended a 0-0 deadlock when Jose Vega found the back of the net from about 15 yards out in the 50th minute. Northside (15-5-1) keeper Eric Flores had a save just seconds before and batted away a Springdale shot, but Vega corraled the loose ball and put it in.

The Bulldogs had another chance at a goal just a few minutes later when Javier Solis had a shot hit the left post, then ricochet over and hit the right post, but the ball did not cross the goal line.

A strong wind had an effect on the match for both teams that resulted in a 0-0 halftime tie, but both Northside goals came against the wind in the second half.

Jason Forsey tied the match at 1-1 at the 26-minute mark when he put a header into an open goal after Springdale keeper Jesus Barroso got caught in a crowd and went to the turf. A Northside player chipped the ball over to Forsey who headed it into the open net.

Cramping was also a factor for both teams, and Vega left the match for about five minutes with leg cramps. Twice the Bulldogs had shots on goal in the closing minutes. Mark Solis missed a header at the 2:26 mark, and Heiriberto Razo was wide left with a header with 1:15 left. Springdale had a free kick from about 40 yards with under 10 seconds left, but Northside stopped it as the horn sounded.

Rogers High 1, LR Catholic 0

A season few predicted could happen has unfolded for the Mounties.

The defending state champions are headed back to the final after Willie Hernandez scored a penalty kick goal just 1 minute, 51 seconds into Saturday's semifinal match and the Rogers defense made it stand the rest of the way.

Rogers' Trey Keith was taken down in the Catholic box and the Mounties were awarded a penalty kick. Hernandez got the call and drilled a low shot past the Catholic keeper into the left corner of the net.

"Usually I don't look at where I'm going to kick it, I just look at the ball and the keeper," Hernandez said after the match. "I always do a football stance that the boys taught me that they do. And my side is always the left side, but I was really nervous because against Fayetteville, I had a PK and I missed it.

"So I was really nervous, but I had to put it in and placed it in the place where I usually do. And I think for their keeper, it would have been hard for him to get it."

Coming into the state tournament, Rogers was just 11-10-1 and had lost back-to-back matches to Springdale and Rogers Heritage. But the Mounties (14-10-1) have made all the right moves in the postseason and will have a chance to defend their title next week.

"This is very sweet," Rogers coach Stephen Peck said. "We struggled in conference play and we were the fourth seed coming in and now we're going to the championship game. That says a lot about this team and their heart."

Hernandez scored the match's only goal, but the Mounties were on the attack the entire match and peppered the Rockets keeper Armano Atilano with numerous shots, but the Catholic sophomore rose to the challenge.

Catholic's best chance at a goal came with just under two minutes left when the Rockets (13-6-1) sent a low shot into the goal, but Mounties' keeper Anthony Garcia stopped the shot and the Mounties were able to run off the remaining time.

"No one thought we would be here," Peck told his team after the match. "But out of all the teams in the 7A-West, we're the only one that will be playing Saturday. You guys should be very proud of that, and proud to be the only team to lead Rogers to the state finals in back-to-back years."

Sports on 05/13/2018

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