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  • Val T.

North White snaps Caston’s 6-game win streak in sectional semis

Palma scores 4 goals to help eliminate Comets


Sports Editor, RTC

ARGOS — Cristian Palma scored four goals, and Fernando Velazquez also scored for the North White boys soccer team in a 5-0 win over Caston in a Class 1A, Sectional 37 semifinal at Argos’ Eugene Snyder Field Wednesday.

North White improved to 9-7-1 and advanced to the sectional final, where they will meet Argos at 2 p.m. Saturday. Argos blanked Culver 8-0 in the other semifinal Wednesday.

Their season highlighted by a Hoosier North championship, Caston finished 6-8. They lost their first seven games and then won six in a row, including a 4-1 quarterfinal win over Winamac in the quarterfinals Monday, before their season-ending loss to North White.

Caston also won six games before losing to North White in the sectional semifinals in 2022.

North White senior goalkeeper Kobie Sparks stopped Caston’s two best chances in the first half. First, he stopped Jan Aguilar Mendez’s penalty kick attempt with 30:18 left.

And at the 16:45 mark, he stopped Drew McGrew’s look from 15 yards out.

Caston had eight shots on goal for the game, but those might have been the two best opportunities.

“You never know,” Caston coach Narciso Sanchez said. “I feel like momentum did shift a little bit midway through that first half. You know, you never know how it’s going to go. Yes, it could have changed the momentum; no, it could have been the same outcome. At that point, it would have been nice to convert both of those goals. I think it would have at least changed the way that game played out through the next 20 minutes or so. … They didn’t give us any chance to breathe after the PK miss.”

Meanwhile, Palma recorded a hat trick as North White built a 3-0 halftime lead.

The first goal came after a run down the middle from Jose Paz, who then slipped a pass between two defenders to Palma, who beat Caston goalkeeper Lane Halterman to his left.

The second goal came off a Paz direct kick. Halterman stopped it on a short hop, but it popped up in the air, and Palma popped in a header at the 22:32 mark.

If the second goal was Palma just being in the right place at the right time, the third goal was more about his dribbling skill. He worked around Josh Evans and then dribbled at and then away from Ryan Spin, creating enough room for a left-footed finish and a 3-0 lead at the 15:47 mark.

“Quality player,” Sanchez said. “Obviously, when you’re dealing with a player like that, you have to make sure he’s man-marked, you’re watching his runs, and you’ve got an eye on him at all times. Unfortunately, he was in the right spot and was able to break us down and finish for four of those five goals.”

Velazquez scored just 23 seconds into the second half to make it 4-0 after Pablo Ramirez hustled down a loose ball and kept it inbounds. He then sent a pass ahead to Velazquez, who cut to the middle scored with his left foot inside the far post just as Cristian Rivera appeared to run interference in front of Halterman.

Palma scored his fourth goal with 9:25 left when Halterman could not recover a loose ball after leaving the goal mouth, and Rivera lofted a short pass to Palma, who headed the ball into the empty net.

Caston finished with eight shots against Sparks.

Still, Sanchez, who is well into his second decade as Caston coach, said the season turnaround was unique in his memory.

“I would say I’ve probably had some late runs, but I don’t know if I could say that I’ve had the sheer amount of improvement from the first seven to the last seven,” Sanchez said. “These kids have improved tremendously. They’ve worked extremely hard. They’ve gritted out practices. They’ve competed at practices, and they’ve shown up, and it’s obviously evident in their performance over the last seven games. Just unfortunate they could not win today.”

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