The Palo Alto 93B Blue Panthers men's U19 soccer team needed a big stop from goalie Cameron McElfresh just to get into the championship game of the Santa Clara Sporting Invitational at the Santa Clara Soccer Park over the weekend.
Once in, they weren't going to be denied. Palo Alto 93B Blue edged Deportivo Pachuca, 2-1, in the championship match to earn its third tournament title of the season.
Zack Hummel and Jose Mendoza each scored for the Panthers, who finished 5-0-1 in the tournament, ranked No. 1 in Northern California and No. 3 in the USA by gotsoccer.com.
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 the match was tied, 0-0, at the end of regulation.
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.
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.