SOCCER: Camrena’s boot sends Raiders to title game
HERSCHER — Iroquois West was ranked as a slight underdog in Wednesday’s regional match, but the Raiders sure didn’t play like one.
Thanks to four goals and an assist from Diego Camarena, the fifth-seeded Raiders (15-5) ran away with a 5-1 victory against fourth-seeded Coal City (15-8) in an IHSA Class 1A Herscher Regional semifinal.
It didn’t take Camarena long to find the back of the net, as he put in his first goal in the 11th minute. Another 11 minutes later, Camarena converted a penalty kick to give the Raiders a 2-0 lead in what essentially was the deciding moment of the match.
Raiders coach Rich Alvarez said the goal originally was to get an early lead and then sit back and play defense, but those plans changed shortly after the match began.
“We were going to sit back and play a little more defense, but we saw some things where we felt we could score a couple more [goals],” Alvarez said. “It worked out, and from there, we just sat back, controlled the ball and played defense a little bit.”
Camarena, the nation’s leading scorer with 66 goals, notched his hat trick just 50 seconds into the second half. He added a fourth goal with seven minutes left in the game, but his proudest moment came on a pass. He lifted a perfect pass from just behind the midfield marker to perfectly find the foot of Lucas Alvarez for a goal late in the second half.
“It felt good to get a couple goals in, and I even got that assist, too,” Camarena said. “Did you see that assist? It curved perfectly.”
Three of Camarena’s goals were set up by trusty midfielder Angel Barajas. The Raiders had 19 shots on goal, a majority of which were taken by either Barajas or Camarena.
“It’s nice,” Camarena said of playing with Barajas. “He definitely knows how to find someone, it’s what he’s really good at.”
For the Coalers, Wednesday’s loss marked the end of an era. Eleven seniors played in their final match for coach Steve McCleary, who said his team didn’t play their best match Wednesday.
“A few of these guys were up on varsity for four years, and we had a lot of these guys up for three years, so it always hurts to lose a group like this,” McCleary said. “There’s a lot of talent, a lot of heart, a lot of passion with this group, and it will be hard to replace.
“It’s never fun to go out that way in a bit of a messy game. We got ourselves out of our game, and ultimately, they capitalized on it.”
The Raiders hope to pull off another upset Friday, albeit a bit of a larger one, when they take on Herscher in Friday’s regional championship in Herscher. Alvarez said that similarly to Wednesday’s match, the key will be taking an early lead.
“We need to come out and get that first goal again; it may only be one goal, but I know Herscher has some pretty good guys on the wings, and we need to keep them from opening things up on us,” Alvarez said. “If we get that first goal and settle in, I think we can get that confidence going.
“If it’s the second half, and we’re up one, it may be all defense after that, but that’s what we’re looking for.”