As the preseason waters parted in the San Diego Section's new three-tiered playoff system, Eastlake coach Chris Barrick felt he had one of the top teams in the slightly modified Division I field. A month into the season, the two-time defending Mesa League champion Titans are, in Barrick's words, still “searching for an identity.”
For starters, preseason player of the year pick Ian Muhlbach suffered a severe hand injury in Eastlake’s first game in the Poway Invitational. That led to a disappointing 11th-place finish for the Titans.
Adam Hilborn, next in line among EHS scorers, took ill as the team played in last weekend’s San Diego Fall Classic. The Titans finished sixth in the 20-team field.
Hilborn played with a 101 degree fever in Tuesday’s non-league game against Hilltop at the Parkway Plunge.
Eastlake won, 7-6, in overtime.
Barrick isn’t making any excuses for his team. “Hilltop has gotten a lot better — they took us out of our game,” the EHS coach said.
Hilborn led the Titans (8-7) with four goals in Tuesday’s hotly contested match-up pitting reigning champions from the Mesa League (Eastlake) and South Bay League (tri-champion Hilltop). He scored the game-winner with 1:30 left in the second three-minute OT period.
“He gave everything he had — I can’t ask more from him as a coach,” Barrick said.
Mike Tong scored twice for the Titans, including the opening goal in the first three-minute overtime stanza, while Josh Alvarez had the other EHS goal.
The spirited game was tied on five occasions after the host Lancers (4-5) broke out to an early 2-0 lead on goals by Leo Perez and Rodrigo Perez. Tong tied the game at 2-2 early in the second quarter and Hilborn gave the Titans a 3-2 halftime lead.
Juan Ontiveros responded with two goals in the third quarter to put Hilltop back on top 4-3.
But Eastlake answered with goals by Alvarez and Hilborn to jump-start the fourth quarter to place the visitors back in front 5-4.
Leo Perez sent the game into overtime for the Lancers with a clutch goal with 2:16 left in regulation play and tied the game, 6-6, with a goal in the first three-minute OT period. He led Hilltop with three goals.
Brian Porter faced the brunt of the Lancer attack, finishing the game with seven saves.
Hilltop coach John Salts lauded the play of both teams.
“It was a solid game — you can’t ask for a better game that goes to overtime,” he said. “It could have gone either way. I’m proud of my boys for keeping their heads and not rolling over. We’ve stepped it up to the next level. Our goal is that playing these upper level Division I and Division II teams will prepare us to play at that level. Our goal is to finish between sixth and eighth in CIF (seeding) and win our first playoff game.”
The Lancers face off league play Thursday, Oct. 7, against Mater Dei Catholic in a 5 p.m. contest at the Las Palmas pool. Hilltop, Mater Dei and Mar Vista all shared last year’s South Bay League title.
Eastlake opens defense of its league title Oct. 19 against Chula Vista at SWC. Muhlbach, still sporting a cast, is expected back in the line-up sometime in late October.
“A little adversity is good for the kids,” Barrick said. “The younger players are getting a lot more playing time. We’ve just got to learn not to force things. We’ve got the outside shooters who can put the ball in the net.”
Hilltop defeated one-time arch rival Bonita Vista, 15-2, in a non-league game played Sept. 14 at the Las Palmas pool. Luis Ontiveros led the Lancers with four goals. It was Hilltop’s first victory over the Barons in 14 years.
The Lancers finished 2-2 to place seventh out of nine teams at a tournament hosted Sept. 23-25 in Orange County by Irvine High School. Hilltop defeated Sage Hill and Trabuco. “It was really tough competition up there,” Salts said. “It was good for us to see and experience.”
Eastlake edged Patrick Henry, 10-8, in another thrill-a-minute non-league game played Sept. 16 at Southwestern College. Hilborn led the Titans with seven goals in that game but it took a goal by Tong with 31 seconds to play to finally subdue the Patriots. Rhett McGinty made a season-best 16 saves to help keep Eastlake afloat while Dylan Chase and Tyler Rowean each had single goals. Tong also contributed three assists in the win.