Jackson picked the right time to turn in what head coach Matt Hoelscher called a complete “80 minutes of quality soccer.”
Jackson upended East No. 2 seed Cheyenne Central, 2-0, on Thursday to advance to the 4A state championship semifinal on its home turf.
In what was truly a well-rounded effort filled with sharp passes and swarming team defense, the Broncs jumped out in front just over seven minutes into the game. Raymundo Hernandez fielded a long ball on the right wing and chipped it out of reach of the Indians’ keeper’s reach to put the Broncs up 1-0.
“We knew we could exploit their wingbacks,” Hoelscher said. “So our game plan was to slice it through to our wingers or over the top.”
Jackson remained in control for much of the first half, with defender Max Hammond coming up for a set piece and nearly heading in a score of his own.
Just over six minutes into the second half, Jafet Hernandez-Moreno split the defense, turned inside and buried the Broncs’ second goal. From there, Jackson remained aggressive as the game turned slightly chippy. Four yellow cards were handed out in the final 40 minutes, with Jackson taking three.
“That was definitely our best game of the season to date,” said Hammond, who was key in the defensive third throughout. “We had a lot more chances than them, and even when they got chances we were quick to shut them down defensively as well.”
The victory sets up a Friday meeting with rival Star Valley, which took out Campbell County 4-2 on Thursday.
The Braves have gotten the best of Jackson this season, winning two of the three times the sides have met. The Broncs beat Star Valley 5-2 in early April, with Star Valley having beaten Jackson 3-0 in the regional semifinals on the way to winning the championship.
For Jackson to get past the Braves and into Saturday’s state championship game, Hoelscher said, they’ll have to minimize errors and avoid being sucked into the Braves’ long-ball game.
“They don’t play like Cheyenne Central,” Hoelscher said. “It’s a lot of long ball. We’ve got to get the ball on the ground, on the table, play it wide and keep moving the ball.”
Jackson, the West’s No. 3 seed, is no doubt an underdog heading into the semifinals. But Hammond pointed to the Broncs’ undefeated record at home as one of a number of reasons Jackson could shock the state this weekend.
“Oh, 100 percent,” he said of it being realistic for Jackson to claim the state title. “All of our losses have come away, and we’re playing on our home turf tomorrow, so I think we can beat them.”
On the girls side of the tournament, West No. 3 Jackson suffered a 2-0 loss to East No. 2 Thunder Basin on Thursday to bounce to the consolation side of the bracket. Jackson gave up both goals near the end of the first half, but came out a much more composed team for the final 40 minutes. The Broncs went with a lone striker up top to combat the capable attack of the Bolts, and Phoebe Alva Rosa had great looks on goal to open the second half from that forward position.
“Phoebe caught a couple of breaks where we had a chance, but their center marking back [Delaney Knottnerus] is phenomenal,” Jackson head coach Kristen Pizarro said.
The Broncs will take on Cheyenne East on Friday for a spot in Saturday’s consolation final game.