Even without its best player, Jerome is still a special high school boys' soccer team.
The Tigers proved it Wednesday with a 3-0 win over the Wood River High School Wolverines in the first Great Basin Conference game of the season, played on a pretty day at South Valley Sports Complex soccer field in Hailey.
Jerome (19-1-1 last fall, 3rd place State 4A) is two-time defending GBC champion. But the Tigers played Wednesday without their dangerous senior forward Fermin Martinez (32 goals last year, 69 career). Martinez scored nine goals as Jerome won its first three games 7-1 over Hillcrest, 10-0 over Mountain Home and 3-1 over Madison of Rexburg.
But Martinez drew two yellow cards in Jerome's previous contest and Tiger varsity coach Robert Garcia sidelined him in Hailey Wednesday.
How do you compensate for the loss of a franchise player like Martinez, especially against an unbeaten Wood River team smelling an upset? Coach Garcia said. "Our defense was strong. I feel that was the biggest part of the game."
It helped that Jerome scored early and late in the first half for a 2-0 lead, then added insurance as the game wound down in the 80th minute.
Jerome out-shot Wood River 20-12 and had a 6-5 advantage in corner kicks. Wood River senior goalkeeper Colter Brehmer (18 saves) and Jerome senior goalie Roman Vazquez (12 saves) were two of the best players on the field Wednesday.
With senior forward Hector Lopez hobbled for most of the game by a strained groin, Wood River didn't have finishing ability to match the exquisite passing and serving talents of senior Luis "Freddy" Tamayo.
It wasn't for lack of trying.
Wood River coach Luis Monjaras said, "The times we did manage to get through their defense—and we had several great opportunities early—we need to know how to finish. We just can't win a game against a team like Jerome if we can't put the ball in the net."
Tamayo and Hailey senior Morgan Pike teamed for the home team's best chances in the first half. Keeper Brehmer made two outstanding saves out of his 10 in the first half.
But it was Jerome doing the scoring. Senior Saul Diaz ripped a 26-yard shot high into the net on a Sergio "Cheko" Madrigal drop pass from the top of the box at seven minutes. And freshman Alejandro Vidaca made no mistake in the box at 39 minutes after a pass from junior Salvador Mercado.
"They caught us off guard on that first goal, right after we had two great opportunities to score, and then we over-committed on the second," said Hailey coach Monjaras.
In the second half, Jerome's defense rose to the occasion led by senior sweeper and captain Jaime Eudave and his running mates in the back, Eduardo Ruiz, Miguel Nolasco and Jovany Ortiz.
Wood River's best scoring chance came at 57 minutes when a cross from Hailey junior Alejandro Garcia went to Pike, and Jerome's captain Eudave cleared it out of danger. Later, Bryan Donoso had a header off a Tamayo corner kick that keeper Vazquez alertly kept out of the net.
Only four minutes remained in a 2-0 game when Jerome's defense was whistled for an illegal charge deep in the box. Pike's quickly executed indirect kick found its way into the net and gave Wood River fans a brief thrill. But the goal was disallowed when officials ruled that no player touched the ball.
Jerome ended the scoring in the 80th minute on a Sergio Martinez kick into the top corner, from Sergio Madrigal in a corner kick situation.
Monjaras said, "Jerome's defense really picked it up. It would have been interesting to see how we might have done if (Fermin) Martinez was in the game, but now we have a better idea of what we need to do to keep up with Jerome."
The Wood River coach added about his own defense, "(Senior) Cody Phelps stepped up for us and won everything in the defensive midfield."
Jerome (4-0-0, 1-0-0 league, 23-2 goals against) took the early league lead and Wood River (1-1-1, 0-1-0 league) completed its season-opening three-game homestand.
Wood River still holds an 11-8-1 edge in the soccer series with Jerome since 1997, but the Wolverines haven't won in the last nine games, including eight losses, and have been outscored 20-5 in the last four losses.
The 4A Wolverines travel to Pocatello for their first road game of the season Saturday, Sept. 5 at 11 a.m. against Highland. It's off to Rupert Wednesday, Sept. 9 for another big Great Basin game against Minico. Burley arrives in Hailey Saturday, Sept. 12.