Wed, Mar 16 2011 11:01 PM Posted By: Phillip Brents
Numbers aside (a No. 6 state and top 25 national ranking), the Hilltop Lancers boys soccer team has proven to be one of the San Diego Section’s top sides this season. While they are not invincible, they have displayed a resiliency — and consistency — to win.
The result has produced appearances in two regular season tournament finals, one tournament title, a Mesa League championship, a 24-3-1 overall record and a berth in Saturday’s Division II championship game against league rival Bonita Vista.
The rare all-South County CIF final appears well worth the ticket for admission. The last time two Metro teams lined up for a section championship match was in 1985 when Hilltop defeated west side rival Chula Vista, 2-1, to capture the Class 2A title.
The Lancers last won a division title in 1993.
A new generation will take the pitch on Saturday to uphold school pride.
“It’s going to be exciting,” HHS head coach John Salts said following Tuesday’s 1-0 semifinal-round victory over the San Marcos Knights at Montgomery High School. “It’s a great day for South Bay soccer.”
Hilltop’s runaway success this season is made apparent after watching the Lancers play. They paint a masterpiece with their passing and compose a symphony with their skill.
Hilltop assistant coach Victor Vargas, who has a son on the current Lancer squad, made it as far as the CIF semifinals his junior year while playing for his alma mater. But the team he played on doesn’t quite compare to the 2010-11 edition.
“This is a whole different type of team,” Vargas said. “They move the ball around so well. They have talent but they’re not a big team, they’re not a physical team. It’s impressive how well they move the ball.”
Salts admitted he just likes to sit back and watch.
Tuesday’s win was the second for the Lancers in this year’s playoffs. Hilltop received the No. 2 seed and a bye to last Friday’s quarterfinals. The reigning Mesa League champions defeated seventh-ranked Scripps Ranch, 2-0, in a game played last Friday, also at Montgomery High School.
“We were putting 10 to 12 passes together in the game against Scripps Ranch,” Salts said. “The game against San Marcos was more like night and day. We could only put four or five passes together (because of their defense). It was intense.”
The pairing pitted the Knights’ speed down the wings against the Hilltop defense. The Lancers were able to contain that speed to make their one-goal margin of victory stand up.
The game-winning play developed in the 23rd minute when Abdiel Flores took a throw-in from the right attacking sideline. The ball came to Jimmy Estrada, who carried the ball along the end line and let loose a shot from about 15 yards to the far post.
Hilltop nursed its one-goal lead for the remainder of the match, playing with confidence and teamwork even when San Marcos did create some dangerous scoring opportunities. Sophomore goalkeeper Adrian Zendejas blocked a point-blank shot by San Marcos’ Esteban Reyes early in the game to set the tone for the Lancer defense.
Hilltop had a chance to double its lead in the waning stages of the second half when the Knights netminder was forced to make a double-fisted save on a laser beam shot from the outside by Roberto Diaz.
The Lancers out-shot the Knights 13-9. Zendejas was in the right position at the right time throughout the match, even when plucking the ball off the head of would-be goal-scorers on dangerous corner kicks. The shutout was his 13th of the season. He sports a 0.73 goals-against average.
Action was intense inside the box despite the low score. San Marcos had eight corners in the match; Hilltop had seven.
Diaz, Estrada and Diego Valverde were each credited with three shots in the game. Estrada scored a similar goal to the one he score on Tuesday in the win over Scripps Ranch.
“I saw him making a run toward the goal box and it was dÈj‡ vu,” Salts said.
Been there, done that.
The goal was the eighth for Estrada this season. He entered Saturday’s championship match as the team’s second leading scorer with a team-leading 17 assists to his credit.
“It was an intense game — I loved it,” he said. “I give thanks to the crowd for their support. It was amazing to get the game-winning goal (but) it took a lot of effort, determination from the whole team, that hunger to win CIF.”
Team captain Josh Diaz is Hilltop’s leading scorer on the season with 16 goals and five assists. He had the Lancers’ other goal against Scripps Ranch.
“I give props to all our team,” he said. “Our defense has been working out well. They’ve been keeping the shutouts. I’m so proud of our team for making it this far. We’re going to go all the way this year.”
Of the six teams in the Mesa League, five qualified for this year’s playoffs. Three of those teams were still alive in Tuesday’s semifinals. Third-seeded Mater Dei Catholic (8-11-3) finished one goal short of advancing to the Division IV final following a 2-1 loss to second-seeded Francis Parker (17-2-3).
“It says a lot about the strength of our league,” the elder Vargas said.
Scoring: Josh Diaz 16 goals, five assists; Jimmy Estrada 8 goals, 17 assists; Diego Valverde 13 goals, four assists; Roberto Diaz seven goals, seven assists; David Zendejas six goals, six assists
Shutouts: Adrian Zendejas 13
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