Hilltop High School boys soccer coach John Salts called it an “honor” for his team to be selected to compete in the San Diego Section’s inaugural Open Division boys soccer playoffs.
“The Open Division talent pool is great, and it’s an honor to be just one of two teams south of Del Mar to be involved,” he said.
The elite division is comprised of eight teams, each guaranteed a playoff berth, and each selected based on performance over the last few years.
Chula Vista (2-0-4 in league play, 11-5-5 overall) edged Hilltop (2-3-1 in league, 9-12-2 overall) for the top spot in the Metro-Pacific League standings to earn the No. 6 seed in the Open Division playoffs while the Lancers were seeded eighth.
The concept of the new division is playoff parity and, despite the mismatch in win-loss records, that was achieved with Hilltop’s stunning 3-2 quarterfinal-round victory against top-seeded Poway on Wednesday.
The Lancers advance to next Wednesday’s semifinals against fifth-seeded Torrey Pines (11-7-7) while second-seeded Carlsbad (18-4-3) will test third-seeded San Pasqual (14-3-7).
In other quarterfinal matches, Torrey Pines eliminated fourth-seeded Westview (19-4-2) by a 3-1 score while Carlsbad ousted seventh-seeded La Costa Canyon (5-10-7) by a score of 1-0 and San Pasqual edged Chula Vista also by a score of 1-0.
The two semifinal winners will meet in the division championship game scheduled Friday, March 7, at 7:30 p.m. at Mesa College.
Chula Vista brought some late season momentum with an eight-game unbeaten streak (4-0-4) into Wednesday’s quarterfinal match at San Pasqual, and had gone 9-1-4 in its last 14 trips to the pitch.
Poway carried a rather intimidating 15-1-8 record into Wednesday’s playoff match, but Hilltop proved the playoffs truly are a second season.
The hosts started the match with a point blank shot on goal at the 25-second mark and, according to Salts, “pretty much kept the pressure on” the Lancer defense for the remainder of the first half, with Hilltop goalkeeper Abner Alatorre forced to come up with five point-blank saves to keep Poway off the scoreboard.
With 37 seconds remaining in the first half, Hilltop pushed the ball up its right side and got a cross from Luis Alfaro to midfielder Dean Hess, who flicked the ball out left off his head to Russ Lopez, who beat a charging Poway ’keeper with a left- footed volley high into the net for a 1-0 Lancer halftime lead.
Hilltop scored quickly in the second half off a cross by Alfaro again from the right side to the far back post to Jesus Ponce, who headed the ball over the outstretched arms of the Poway ’keeper.
The Titans got on the scoreboard with 22 minutes remaining in the match after the Lancers had some mishaps in the midfield and did not close the gap on defense. However, Hilltop junior Victor Lopez (younger brother to Russ) scored on the ensuing kickoff to offset any momentum that might have been built by the Poway goal.
With the Lancers leading 3-1 and 17 minutes remaining on the clock, Poway scored for the second time on a ball bouncing in the box.
The Titans pushed their offense forward to cause havoc for the Lancers defense for the remainder of the match. But the Lancers were able to hold off the attack and walked off Poway’s field with the 3-2 victory.
Alatorre was credited with 14 saves, with most of them coming on diving saves off explosive shots, Salts noted.
The Lancers are one win away from playing in their third CIF finals match in the past four years.
Mustangs lose numbers game in CIF opener
The Otay Ranch Mustangs entered Wednesday’s opening round of the Division I San Diego Section boys soccer playoffs fresh off winning the Metro-Mesa League championship. The Mustangs finished undefeated with six wins and two ties in league play.
However, eighth-seeded Otay Ranch (10-5-4) could not carry that momentum past league competition in absorbing a disappointing 2-1 setback to ninth-seeded San Dieguito Academy (7-7-5) to close out the 2013-14 season.
The visitors scored on a penalty kick by Tristan Norton with 28:10 left in the second half and then added a deft counter-attack goal by Owen Ereso, assisted by Sergio Gonzalez, with 25:20 to play to build a 2-0 advantage on the scoreboard after the hosts had suffered a red card infraction.
Down one player on the pitch, the Mustangs got one goal back on a PK by Jonathon Melgar with 5:15 remaining in regulation time.
However, a second red card infraction with 3:28 left cost the hosts another player on the field and proved insurmountable.
“The PK hurt us because we had to work twice as hard to get a tie,” ORHS coach Brian Lewis said. “We had plenty of opportunities to tie it up but we just couldn’t finish.”
Lewis remained proud of his team in defeat, however. “With two men down, we were still attacking,” he noted.
San Dieguito Academy advances to meet top-seeded St. Augustine (18-3-2) in Saturday’s quarterfinals.