Rising stars square off in middle school soccer showdown

Riverchase's Ashley Orlandi (No. 1) and Helena's Josh Garner (No. 16) battle for a ball in a rivalry match March 19. (Reporter Photo/Drew Granthum)

Riverchase’s Ashley Orlandi (No. 1) and Helena’s Josh Garner (No. 16) battle for a ball in a rivalry match March 19. (Reporter Photo/Drew Granthum)

By DREW GRANTHUM/Sports Writer

PELHAM — The stage was set for a huge matchup between rivals Riverchase Middle and Helena Middle in soccer March 20, and the two squads did not disappoint, with the Panthers taking a 3-1 win.

Riverchase’s Irvin Rodriguez took center stage, netting a hat trick in the contest.

The Huskies opened the contest with a huge play by HMS keeper A.J. Mitchell, diving for a save to prevent a goal. Riverchase’s offense, led by the ball control of Miguel Trejo and Kevin Tejada, set up shop into the Helena zone early in teh first half.

The Panthers’ pressure eventually paid off, as Rodriguez found the back of the goal at the 20:15 mark to give Riverchase a 1-0 lead. Rodriguez added another goal at the 15:45 mark to put the Panthers up 2-0 and take full control of the game’s momentum.

Helena’s defense stiffened, and held the Panthers scoreless through the rest of the half.

It took Riverchase exactly ten seconds after the start of the second half to net a third goal, once again provided by Rodriguez on a breakaway.

The goal appeared to wake up the Huskies, who began to turn up the offensive pressure. Zac Fuller and Dominc Lane began to force the ball into the Riverchase zone, and nearly paid off, as a Brian Hernandez’s shot at 14:50 just missed the goal wide right.

As the momentum began to swing the Huskies way, so did the breaks. At 9:40, Lane finally broke through, scoring to pull the score to 3-1.

Late in the going, Helena had one more chance to get back in the game, but a Julian Sanchez penalty kick sailed just over the goal.

Despite one last push by Helena, the Panthers’ defense held strong, securing the 3-1 win.

“I’m really proud of the way that they came back from the loss against Calera,” Riverchase assistant coach and skills instructor Moises Roman said. “They worked well as a team. They just came out and got things done.”

Helena head coach Jason McCleney said he was proud of this team’s effort, despite the loss.

“(I’m) proud of the fact they didn’t quit until the final whistle,” he said. “They finished the game a lot stronger than they started it. At the beginning of the game (Riverchase)  had one person they running their offense through. I think we controlled the game in the second half, and I can’t be more proud of them.”