Jason Murphy graduated from Bonita Vista High School in 1989 but can still feel the throbbing emotions of that night in March his senior year when his team, the Bonita Vista Barons, defeated the Monte Vista Monarchs, 2-1, in overtime to claim the rights to the Class 3A San Diego Section boys soccer championship.
“I can remember every detail of that game, even though it was more than 20 years ago,” Murphy said. “To me, as a student-athlete back then, it meant everything.”
Murphy will be leading the Barons, this time as their coach, to CIF’s promised land when fourth-seeded Bonita Vista meets second-seeded and Mesa League rival Hilltop Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Cathedral Catholic High School in this year’s Division II title match.
It will mean everything to the players on both teams.
“For two South Bay teams to be playing in this thing, it’s huge,” Murphy said. “It’s great for the South Bay. We want to win it.”
The Barons (18-6-1) will get a chance to do just that after shading the eighth-seeded Mt. Carmel Sundevils, 1-0, on an exceptionally cold Tuesday night at Olympian High School in the division semifinals. The Sundevils (13-10-4) entered the match as the media darling after upsetting top-seeded Westview (ranked 20th in the nation), 2-1, in the preceding quarterfinals.
But Bonita Vista held true to recent form, with what Murphy called a “team game,” to send the North County kickers home disappointed while entertaining the festive home crowd.
“We have an awesome goalie, we have a strong defense and our midfielders are solid,” the BVHS coach said. “If we have one weakness, it’s that we have trouble finishing.”
Paolo Macias drove a bending left-footed shot into the side netting of the far post from 35 yards out on a direct free kick for the game’s only goal against Mt. Carmel. The goal came halfway through the second half of play.
Macias scored on a similar play, only from 40 yards out on the opposite side of the field, in last Friday’s 2-0 quarterfinal victory against El Cajon Valley (12-8-2). Luis Cardona also scored in that game.
Alvaro Alvarez received credit for both shutout playoff wins.
The strong defense in front of him includes Ramon Martin del Campo, David Garza, Johnny Martinez and Macias.
Alvarez was not required to make a save in Tuesday’s game, according to Murphy.
“They all played awesome,” the BVHS coach said. “We pretty much dominated the game … we just couldn’t finish our chances.”
Finishing will be on order in Saturday’s division title match. The Barons and Lancers (24-3-1) will be meeting for the third time this season, with Hilltop already owning 2-0 and 2-1 victories in Mesa League play. Somehow, Murphy likes his team’s chances.
“They got Mesa League but we want CIF,” he said. “They will need to beat us three times in one season, which is not easy. We lost to Valhalla twice to start the season and then we beat them to win the Grossmont tournament, so it’s kind of the same thing going on now with Hilltop. We’ve lost twice to Hilltop but we want to win the third game.”
This will actually be Murphy’s second try at winning a division title as a coach after he led the Barons to a runner-up finish in the 2005 Division I finals against Torrey Pines.
“To get to the CIF championship game, it takes a lot of skill and a lot of luck,” Murphy said. “Sometimes it takes a lot of luck. We could have lost some games because of our problem with finishing.”
Bonita Vista, however, appears to be playing its best soccer at the right time of the season after posting a third place finish in league play.
“We were so consistent to start the season and then we hit a slump in the middle of the season and now we’ve picked it back up,” Murphy said. “I don’t know how to explain it. It just seems that when we play as a team, we’re very difficult to beat.”
The two schools have had an ongoing soccer rivalry for decades, both on the boys and girls sides. Murphy retains respect for his opponent.
“Our players play club and their players play cub — they’ve either played together or against each other,” the BVHS coach said. “Hilltop’s a great team and what makes them great is that they find ways to win.”
The Lancers have outscored teams this season 73-19 and are led by a resilient defense and a six-foot-four-inch goalkeeper.
The Barons counter with Alvarez, who stopped penalty kicks in league games against both Chula Vista and Hilltop.
The last time two South County teams met in a section final was in 1985 when Hilltop defeated Chula Vista, 2-1, to win the Class 2A championship. Saturday’s match-up looks to be just as memorable, and worth the wait.
“It’s going to be a good game,” Murphy predicted.
CIF Boys finals
Saturday. March 5
Division 1: Torrey Pines (13-7-5) vs. Rancho Bernardo (16-5-1), 1 p.m. at Westview High School
Division II: (2) Hilltop (24-3-1) vs. (4) Bonita Vista (18-6-1), 1:30 p.m. at Cathedral Catholic High School
Division III: (1) St. Augustine (14-3-5) vs. (11) University City (13-8), 5:30 p.m. at Westview High School
Division IV: (1) Coronado (23-1) vs. (2) Francis Parker (17-2-3), 6:30 p.m. at Cathedral Catholic High School
Division V: (1) Santa Fe Christian (8-11-4) vs. (?) Pacific Ridge (20-0-3), 8:30 a.m. at Westview High School