Four times in the first half, Jesus Ochoa had put his hands on his head and stared at the sky in disbelief after sending a scoring chance soaring off target.
Then, with his O’Connell boys’ soccer team locked in a tie game with Lowell in an Academic Athletic Association semifinal, the league’s leading scorer took a deep breath and did what has come naturally to him all year.
Ochoa scored two second-half goals within five minutes of one another to give O’Connell a 3-1 advantage and the Boilermakers never relinquished the lead, defeating Lowell 4-3 at Boxer Stadium on Thursday.
O’Connell (13-0-3) advances to play defending league champion Mission for the AAA title Saturday, which, weather permitting, will be back at Boxer Stadium at 1 p.m. In the event of heavy rain, the match will be moved to School of the Arts at 2 p.m.
“I just couldn’t get the ball to go in at first,” Ochoa said. “Then I figured out I didn’t need to rip it. When I shot too hard I was missing, so I took my time and relaxed.”
Regardless of the site or time, an O’Connell victory in the final would be a historic. The Boilermakers have never won the AAA crown and last won a league title of any kind in 1971, when O’Connell’s current coach, Bob Gamino, was a halfback at the school and led the team to the Bay Counties League championship.
“We’re really looking forward to it — O’Connell and Mission is a great city rivalry,” Gamino said. “I’m overwhelmed with the way my guys played today.”
Ochoa broke a 1-1 tie in the 59th minute after gaining control of theball at midfield, flicking the ball on to Jose Nava down the right wing, running down the return pass at the Lowell 18-yard line and placing his shot into the left side of the net.
His next goal came just five minutes later, when the senior (who scored 34 times in 14 regular-season games) chipped the Lowell goalkeeper from 35 yards out.
But despite taking the two-goal lead, the Boilermakers could never rest, especially with Anthony Clay on the other side. The striker scored all three goals for Lowell (12-3-1), including a perfectly placed free kick to make it 3-2 in the 70th minute.
O’Connell 4, Lowell 3