Casteel boys soccer advances to the semi-finals

Kaden Cameron celebrates after scoring a goal early on in the game for Casteel (Special to the Independent/Arianna Grainey-Casteel Athletics)

It took less than nine minutes to get the momentum and about 13 to solidify their standing.

“We’re a team that if we get that first goal within 10 minutes, we play completely different,” said Casteel coach Greg Lanman. “Once you see that ball go into the back of the net, everyone starts to loosen up, we are not as tight. Things just start clicking.

Things clicked for third-seeded Casteel (13-2) as it blanked No. 6 Phoenix Northwest Christian 3-0 on Saturday in the quarterfinals of the 3A boys state tournament at Casteel.

The Colts advance to Friday’s semifinals at Williams Field in Gilbert against three-time defending state champion Yuma Catholic.

“We were off, we had a few guys off and in games like this we can’t have a few guys off, we have to all be on, we have to play together,” Northwest Christian coach Jeremy Witt said.

The Crusaders (12-4-1) come up short of their semifinal appearance of a year ago, when they lost to the eventual state champions.

On Saturday, Casteel dominated possession and got the momentum on John Day’s goal in the box in the ninth minute. Four minutes later, Day nearly got another from close range that Northwest Christian goalkeeper Ryan Freeland stopped, but Casteel’s Kaden Cameron knocked in the rebound and a two-goal turned out to be too much.

Cameron added a long free kick goal in the second half for the final margin.

But Witt said the lack of offense – even with a team that averaged more than four goals a game – wasn’t the issue on Saturday

“It starts with us losing marks in the back,” Witt said. “They have a good squad over there. They are also a massive school compared to us. Going from 3 to 5A next year, you know it’s a little bit difficult for small schools to compete with schools like that. We have to start from the back forward. They put a lone man up top (Day) and he just got in and beat us. That’s all it takes.”

Day acknowledged the Crusader defense.

“Their backline was really fast, also really big so I was having trouble breaking them down,” said John Day, who scored the first goal and had several other chances during the afternoon. “In the end, we got a 3-0 win and that’s all that matters.”

But Casteel also played well on defense.

It didn’t help that Crusaders couldn’t get the ball to big man Hess, who had 36 goals this season.

“The team gave our heart out, Casteel was just a great team,” Hess said. “We had a great year though, excited for next year.”

Even when Northwest Christian had the ball, Casteel’s defense closed in, keeping Hess from creating and the rest from getting any good shots off. Hess had a couple of decent chances in the second half, but they went wide.

Despite the loss, Witt was upbeat because only a couple of players graduate from this team.

“I take that we have a good group of young guys coming back,” Witt said. “They jell well together. We just have to learn how to play better together. And just learn from mistakes, clean up play.”

This is a school that reached the state championship game in 2014 and made the post season the last three years as well.

Al Bravo is an east valley based sports writer.

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