Palo Alto 93B Blue edged Deportivo Pachuca, 2-1, in the championship match of the Santa Clara Sporting Invitational at the Santa Clara Soccer Park on Sunday but the Panthers may never have gotten the chance if one critical stop had not gone their way during a semifinal match.
The semifinal pitted Palo Alto (18-1-2 overall) against the top-ranked team in California North. Host team Santa Clara Sporting (12-4-8) had won six of its last seven matches and this particular contest was a scoreless draw when regulation time ran out.
The teams matched penalty kicks through the first five kickers, with Palo Alto getting shots from Riley Hanley, Mendoza, Mark Raftrey, Mackie Kelly, and Grahame Fitz.
After Juan Gamez scored the go-ahead goal, McElfresh came up big, stopping Santa Clara's final attempt and sending the Panthers into the title match.
Zack Hummel and Jose Mendoza each scored for the Panthers against Deportivo Pachuca in a tournament that was ranked No. 1 in Northern California and No. 3 in the USA by gotsoccer.com.
Palo Alto finished 5-0-1 in the tournament
The Panthers had beaten Santa Clara, 4-0, in May en route to the NorCal Cup title in Turlock. Palo Alto also won the Northern California Spring Showcase in March and was champs of the District II Spring League.
The Panthers have yet to lose to a team from California, suffering their first setback of the season at the San Diego Surf Cup, which concluded August 1, to the Dallas Texans 93B Red team, 1-0.
Palo Alto, coached by Rob Becerra and managed by Gal Tirosh, won its first 16 matches of the year, 11 by shutout, before losing to the defending US Club Soccer National Champions.
Hanley and Fitz helped the Panthers open the Santa Clara tournament on the right foot, each scoring goals in their 2-1 win over Alliance Barcelona.
Rodney Portillo and Gamez reached the back of the net in a 2-0 victory over Brazil FC of Nevada and the Oanthers tied the Ceres Earthquakes, 1-1, to earn a spot in the quarterfinal.
A goal from Fitz, another outstanding effort from McElfresh and contributions from Anibal Campos, Daniel Tirosh, Andrew Wohl, Sammy Green, Sammy Hayward, Trevor Assaf, Ricky Minno, Mark Raftrey, Yotam Kasznik, Ian Leung, and Evan Coutre led Palo Alto to the top.
Palo Alto is ranked fourth in Region 4, 15th in the state and 31st in the nation.