One week after playing one of the state’s top boys soccer teams to a tie to end the regular season, Mesa lined up once against Chandler.
Things were a bit different on Wednesday night at Austin Field.
The venue changed to Chandler, the stakes became win or go home in the first round of the 6A Conference playoffs and the Wolves knew they could not bring their secondary game if they wanted to see the second round.
It led to a physical, intense match that was played at the level of a playoff game usually reserved for late in the postseason that went Chandler’s way, 2-0, as the Wolves stayed undefeated on the season.
“The last game showed we could play to our level,” Mesa senior Moises Durazo said. “They got the job done and we didn’t play as good as we needed to.”
The third-seeded Wolves (19-0-5) controlled the first half and took the lead on Josue Saenz’s goal shortly after he was substituted into the match, but only led 1-0.
The second half saw the No. 14 Jackrabbits (11-6-3) become the more aggressive team as the season’s final 40 minutes had a plethora of chances for Mesa’s offense.
Corner kicks, free kicks, breakaways and everything else came up just short as at least four very good looks were either just outside of the post or Wolves goalie Bryan Bautista made several terrific stops.
“We definitely didn’t play our best first half of the season,” Mesa coach T.J. Hagen said. “I don’t know what it was. The second half we challenged our guys to show some character. We picked it up, had a lot more shots on goal, and we were a lot more offensive. We had to try to do something, but couldn’t finish.”
The aggression wasn’t enough and once Chandler’s Briant Sanchez scored with about eight minutes left to make it 2-0 the season was essentially over, but with their heads held high.
The Jackrabbits progressed from a mostly all-new starting lineup to a team that was tough the first-round but was beat by a team that hasn’t lost all season.
“We felt like we could play with anyone in the bracket,” said Hagen, who will have four starters back next year. “Throughout the season we got better and better. This was essentially a brand-new team and they battled hard.”
Seniors Danny Lopez, Jesus Valenzuela, Ivan Chapparo, Jesus Segura, Daniel Peralta, Durazo and so many others left their imprint on the program that younger players like Tony Perez and Joey Rojas can carry with them moving forward.
“We worked and put in the effort, but couldn’t get it done,” Durazo said. “It was tough way to lose. I feel like as a senior group we put our full effort into it. We all knew it was our last year and wanted to have a good year.”
– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.