A dynamic junior core and determined leadership propelled Davis into new territory at this spring's 4A boys soccer tournament.
The #13 seed Pirates (16-4) will once again be the underdogs as they head to Puyallup, where they'll face the hosts in a 7 p.m. semifinal at Sparks Stadium. Coach Cristian Gonzalez said an unexpected away match at the predetermined site for the tournament's final three games won't faze a group hitting its stride at just the right moment.
"Not everything's always going to be in your favor, so I think we've kind of accepted that underdog role now and ready for it," Gonzalez said. "We did that same thing at Curtis."
That's where the Pirates upset the No. 4 Vikings 1-0, thanks to a last-minute goal by junior midfielder Edwin Diaz. Then on Saturday Davis returned home to top No. 12 Union 3-2 in a penalty kick shootout for its first-ever quarterfinal win while No. 8 Puyallup also went to a shootout to stun No. 1 Newport, 3-2.
Two late second-half goals nearly derailed the Pirates' postseason, an occurrence that's become something of a trend over the past two weeks. Davis squandered a two-goal lead in a loser-out district game against Sunnyside — a repeat of a 3-2 (5-4 SO) regular season win — and also gave up a second-half equalizer in the winner-to-state match vs. Eastmont, but each time the Pirates found a way to win.
Gonzalez said their resiliency starts with great leadership from junior captains Noe Garfias and Ezrah Ochoa, as well as junior Jorge Ibarra. He's always preaching positivity and motivating players to keep pushing, no matter what adversity they're facing.
"It's really hard because you want to put your head down and it feels like the natural thing to do," Ibarra said. "But you know you always have to keep your head up high."
They've also leaned heavily on junior goalkeeper Alexander Capi, who's delivered multiple saves in three different shootout wins over the past six weeks. Garfias said consistent practice against Capi also gives the Davis kick takers valuable experience when they step up to the spot in crucial situations.
No opponent has been able to shut out the Pirates in their last 11 matches thanks to an explosive attack led early by Ochoa, whose 19 goals tied the single-season school record. When teams began to focus on slowing him down, that created more opportunities for players like junior forward Cipriano Acosta and especially Diaz, who's tallied five of his eight goals during the postseason.
Ibarra and Garfias both believe plenty of time on the field together before high school gave this junior class a special chemistry, so they all know each other's capabilities. A flair for scoring goals or creating opportunities for others in key moments is nothing new for Diaz, the main creator for Davis in the midfield.
"He's always been that kind of player to just do it himself and he's always done that," Garfias said. "He's just magical."
While Diaz can change the pace of a game in an instant, Garfias strives to control the pace and keep things calm as a defensive central midfielder playing in front of Ibarra. Gonzalez called Garfias a "coach's dream" and credits him for gladly taking on all the dirty work, knowing he's not likely to earn as much recognition as some of his teammates.
Garfias said a "10-second mindset" kept Davis moving forward all season, even when they lost twice to Wenatchee and suffered a pair of one-goal losses against Eastmont. They focused on learning from their mistakes, staying positive and continuing to build momentum.
It's paid off and Ibarra admitted to being a little surprised when he felt no pressure last week during the first two state tournament matches for anyone on the Davis roster. The longtime forward who only switched to defense for Davis and his new club, Sozo FC, a year ago plans to keep encouraging his teammates, no matter what happens during the next two games at Puyallup.
"I tell them 'let's just play with passion, let's play with everything we've got and remember why we're playing this sport, to have fun,'" Ibarra said. "There's no point in being nervous. There's nothing to lose, at the end of the day."
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