SANDY — If there is one thing playoff soccer comes down to, it is seizing the opportunity. If there is one person who knows about seizing the opportunity, it is Juan Diego’s Emily Pascua.
“Emily Pascua has been on a rise all yearlong,” Juan Diego head coach Simon McFall said. “Every game she has gotten better and better. She’s our leading goalscorer, and she’s just finding a knack to finish right now.”
Pascua played hero Friday night in Juan Diego’s (12-4-3) semifinal matchup against Cedar (13-0-5), as the Soaring Eagle escaped with a narrow 1-0 victory behind Pascua’s golden goal in the 86th minute.
“The player was trying to shield me, but I knew I was faster than her,” Pascua admitted. “The goalie came too far out, so I definitely took advantage of that, and I just poked it right past her. I was thankful that I just made the right decision in the right moment.”
Both teams played swarming and intense defense the entire match, and neither team could seem to find an edge. Juan Diego’s defense in particular was tough, and goalkeeper Melanie Mecham was flawless between the posts for the Soaring Eagle, picking up her third shutout of the season.
“We’ve got three players in the back that I always attribute,” McFall said of his team’s defensive performance. “Claire Kolff is one of our center backs; Kristi Shimkus is one of our center backs; and Melanie Mecham is our 'keeper. Between that triangle, they’re just steady. They are confident kids; they are calm kids; and they just have a way of keeping themselves composed.”
After going back and forth for 80 minutes and coming up with miraculous saves left and right, both teams went to their benches and prepared for overtime. With the way both defenses looked, a shootout seemed inevitable.
“It’s focus. It’s character moments,” McFall told his team before overtime. “In overtime, all of the expectations are heightened, all of the tensions are heightened, so it’s going to come down to somebody being calm enough in the moment to just finish the game.”
Sure enough, just six minutes into overtime, Pascua calmly and confidently slipped by her defender, stretched out her leg and poked in the golden goal to lift the Soaring Eagle over Cedar and keep their championship dreams alive.
With the win, Juan Diego, which has won its last six games, moves on to battle Dixie, which has won seven straight, for the 3A title Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“I think (Saturday's) game is going to come down to who’s prepared, who’s fit, who’s healthy and who seizes the opportunity,” said McFall. “They’ll have the chance; we’ll have the chance; and we’ll have to find out who’s got the best focus, character and motivation to get through.”
Ryan Love is a full-time student at the University of Utah studying communications, and has been a part-time sports reporter and scoreboarder for the Deseret News since Oct. 2012. Follow him on Twitter @RLove7724 EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company