Roller hockey was definitely on the upswing among Sweetwater district teams this season and that was amply displayed in Monday’s opening round of the Kiwanis Cup championship playoffs when four local squads rolled onto the floor for a taste of postseason competition.
Seventh-seeded Eastlake (17-4) provided the highlight showing among the four Sweetwater district teams by edging 10th-seeded St. Augustine, 6-5, in an overtime thriller.
Meanwhile, 11th-seeded Otay Ranch (8-10-1) gave defending Kiwanis Cup champion West Hills (9-11) all it could handle in a heroic 10-7 loss in the double-header nightcap at RSportz Arena in El Cajon.
In two games played at the Escondido Sports Center, ninth-seeded Southwest (16-5) dropped an 11-1 decision to eighth-seeded La Jolla Country Day (10-9) while 12th-seeded Bonita Vista (14-8) fell by a 14-0 score to fifth-seeded Scripps Ranch (9-10).
This is the first time in a number of years that four Sweetwater district teams have advanced to the Kiwanis Cup playoffs.
Eastlake qualified as the Mesa League champion while Southwest qualified as the South Bay League champion. Both Otay Ranch and Bonita Vista qualified as at-large entries to call attention to the rising level of play among district teams that presently compete without a development feeder program.
“It was a really exciting season for the Bonita Vista Barons hockey team,” veteran BVHS coach Keith Quigley said. “Early on in the season when we all saw the make- up of this team and the potential we had, our goal was to make the playoffs and we achieved that goal. We hadn’t been in the playoffs in years.”
The Barons, keyed by goaltender Hawk Anderson and top scorer Jonathan O’Brien with 89 goals, finished in a tie for second place in the Mesa League standings with Otay Ranch this season after recording a meager 2-18 record last season.
“I was really happy for our top player, Jonathan O’Brien, about making the playoffs because he has played for me all four years and this was his first chance to experience playoff roller hockey,” Quigley said. “We worked really hard this season. These kids deserved a playoff game.”
After rolling through the season led by record-setting junior scorer Aaron Mayer, the Titans deserved a playoff win, and got one to advance to Wednesday’s quarterfinals against second-seeded Westview.
Eastlake trailed early 1-0 on a goal by St. Augustine’s Ian Harkness but reeled off three unanswered goals to take what appeared to be a somewhat comfortable 3-1 lead.
Mayer, who finished regular season play with a single-season conference record 150 points, scored twice and Nick Rodriguez assisted Michael Mechling as the Titans scratched out some breathing room.
But Harkness came back with two more goals of his own, with his hat trick goal knotting the score at 3-3 midway through the second period.
Mayer gave his team some added breathing room with his third and fourth goals of the game to push the Titans up 5-3.
But Harkness scored his fourth goal of the game with 10 seconds left in the second period and teammate Chris Barr netted a goal just five seconds into the third period to tie the game at 5-5.
By this point, the momentum squarely belonged to the underdog Saints (6-13), who proceeded to pepper EHS goaltender Gabe Sanchez unmercifully with shot after shot.
At times, Sanchez was forced to make clutch saves on successive point-blank shots.
But the Titans finally managed to find their second wind in the hot building midway through the 15:00 sudden-victory overtime period, and Mayer popped in a shot from a sharp angle to allow his team to escape with the OT victory.
Titan coach Ron Cole wasn’t the only one among the EHS faithful to heave a heavy sigh of relief.
“Both sides played a great hockey game,” said Cole, who was making his first trip to the playoffs with Eastlake after previously coaching at Mar Vista. “It took a great effort for us to win. We were ahead early in the game, but honestly, both teams were pretty even. It turned into a hard-fought game between two evenly-matched teams.”
The same could easily be said for the Otay Ranch-West Hills contest.
The Mustangs held a 4-3 lead midway through the second period before the sixth-seeded Wolf Pack began to capitalize on Otay Ranch miscues and odd-man rushes. Still, the Mustangs trailed just 6-5 with 30 seconds gone in the third period and the game was still somewhat in doubt at 9-7 with 1:11 to play when Cole Beatie scored his fifth goal of the game for Otay Ranch.
“It felt nice to be back representing my school,” said Beatie, who was playing his first game of the season for the Mustangs after playing club ice hockey with the Jr. Ducks in Orange County.
Teammate Devyn Taras scored the other two Otay Ranch goals. “It was great,” Taras said. “I’m glad we were competitive in this close game. I think we had some strong players and they had some strong players.”
Ryan Vanoni led West Hills with five goals while Ryden Kerr had a hat trick and Brock Nuckols and Robby Baldwin each scored once to nudge their team into the quarterfinals.
Southwest was making its third trip to the Kiwanis Cup playoffs and kept the score close through the opening period in this year’s match-up against the Torreys.
“The game started to get away from us in the second period and we got a little frustrated but we didn’t give up,” Raider coach Jerry Nestlerode said. “We didn’t lose because of our goaltending, we simply lost to a better team.”
Down 11-0, Southwest scored in the final seconds of the game to cheers from all the fans gathered at the Escondido Sports Center.
“There was a scrum in front of their net, and I know the La Jolla Country Day goaltender likely wanted to get a shutout,” Nestlerode said. “Defenders went down, there was a scramble and Christian Gonzalez got his stick on the puck. Seconds after it went in, the game was over.
“We had some Southwest supporters up there with us, and it was neat to hear all the fans cheering for us.”
In quarterfinal-round games played on Wednesday at the Escondido Sports Center:
Scripps Ranch 7, Cathedral Catholic 4
The fifth-seeded Falcons pulled off the biggest upset of the playoffs thus far with a thrilling come-from-behind win over the fourth-seeded Dons. Cathedral Catholc scored the first two goals of the game to lead by that score after the opening period. Scripps Ranch then scored five unanswered goals, starting with a quick tally by Zach Lopez just 10 seconds into the second period, to enter the third period on top 5-2. The teams then traded goals, with the Dons pulling to 5-3, then the Falcons going up 6-3, then Cathedral pulling closer again at 6-4, before Scripps popped in the final goal to win 7-4. Falcon netminder Casey Wu played solidly between the pipes while Lopez and Carl Smith each had hat tricks and Jesse Lycan scored the other Scripps Ranch goal.
Poway 9, West Hills 3
The third-seeded Titans eliminated the defending Kiwanis Cup champion Wolf Pack in the quarterfinals. Poway goals: Eric Wright 6, Charlie Liebman 2, Jeff Hutton 1. West Hills lead early by a score of 2-1 but by the time Wright notched his hat trick goal, the score was 5-3 in the Titans' favor.
Rancho Bernardo 11, La Jolla Country Day 2
The top-seeded Broncos improved their season record to 18-2 after rolling past the eighth-seeded Torreys. "We were pleased as a team with the outcome of the game," explained RB coach Pat Sagara, whose team claimed its 16th consecutive victory of the season. "The guys continued with the style of play that got us to this point in the season: hard work in both ends of the rink, solid goaltending and a unified team effort to support each other in order to get the win. We're looking forward to the challenge that Scripps Ranch will present in Monday's semi final game."
Broncos, Wolverines paired in Kiwanis Cup championship game
Rancho Bernardo 10, Scripps Ranch 2
Top-seeded Rancho Bernardo scored the first goal of the game but fifth-seeded Scripps Ranch tied the score early on. The Broncos then proceeded to score two more goals, with the third goal being short-handed, to end the first period with a 3-1 lead.
The Falcons had trouble staying out of the penalty box from there and Rancho Bernardo tacked on six more goals – all on power plays – to build a commanding 9-1 advantage. Scripps Ranch scored late in the game and the Broncos matched that for their final eight-goal margin of victory. Nate Kallen led RB with three while while Jesse Lycan scored both Falcon goals.
RB coach Pat Sagara was the first to acknowledge what he termed the "well-played game Scripps Ranch gave us."
"The game was closer than the final score would make it seem," he said. "Our best players all made plays that were important but even more encouraging was that our secondary players also made important contributions in both the offensive and defensive ends of play. This depth proved to be a big difference maker in the semi-final as it has throughout the season."
Sagara noted that three of the team's four defensemen scored goals and three of the team's five forwards also scored goals, which in his words, "demonstrated a very balanced attack for us."
"While he wasn't tested with a quantity of shots, our goalie Cameron Richards made the necessary saves on a number of quality attempts to keep Scripps Ranch at bay," Sagara said. "We know that Westview will be well coached and ready for us in the finals. The RB team has worked hard to reach the finals this season and I'm sure that the guys will be prepared and ready to compete for the championship."
Rancho Bernardo and Westview, both with past Kiwanis Cup championships and both with 19-2 records this season, will duel in Wednesday's title contest, set for a 7 p.m. start at the Escondido Sports Center.
"It's going to be a all-out battle for both teams," Westview coach Ron Smith said. "RBHS has the depth and experience but WVHS has the heart and determination to finish strong."
Westview 6, Poway 3
The hockey gods didn't go Poway's way in the loss to the second-seeded Wolverines. The game was tied 2-2 entering the final period. However, Westview’s Josh Morrison scored on the face-off and then later added another goal to push the Wolverines to a 4-2 lead. Westview’s fifth goal was a dribbler that missed the goal but still had eyes for the net. The Titans scored the opening goal of the game and led, 2-1, on a goal by Eric Wright.
Note: Poway and Scripps Ranch will play in Wednesday’s third-place game, starting at 6:10 p.m.
Kiwanis Cup Championship Playoffs
Monday, Feb. 24
RSportz Arena, EL Cajon
(7) Eastlake 6, (10) St. Augustine 5 (OT)
(6) West Hills 10, (11) Otay Ranch 7
Escondido Sports Center
(8) La Jolla Country Day 11, (9) Southwest 1
(5) Scripps Ranch 14, (12) Bonita Vista 0
Wednesday, Feb. 26
Escondido Sports Center
(1) Rancho Bernardo 11, (8) La Jolla Country Day 2
(5) Scripps Ranch 7, (4) Cathedral Catholic 4
(3) Poway 9, (6) West Hills 3
(2) Westview 9, (7) Eastlake 4
Monday, March 3
Escondido Sports Center
(1) Rancho Bernardo vs. (5) Scripps Ranch, 7 p.m.
(2) Westview vs. (3) Poway, 8 p.m.
Rancho Bernardo 10, Scripps Ranch 2
Westview 6, Poway 3
Wednesday, March 5
Escondido Sports Center
(1) Rancho Bernardo (19-2) vs. (2) Westview (19-2), 7 p.m.
(1) Rancho Bernardo 9, (2) Westview 2
(5) Scripps Ranch (10-11) vs. (3) Poway (12-8), 6:10 p.m.
(3) Poway 10, (5) Scripps Ranch 3
Kiwanis Cup Playoffs Scoring Leaders
Sweetwater District Teams
(Through Feb. 24)
•Aaron Mayer (Eastlake) 5 goals, 0 assist, 5 points
•Cole Beatie (Otay Ranch) 5 goals, 0 assists, 5 points
•Devyn Taras (Otay Ranch) 2 goals, 0 assists, 2 points
•Michael Mechling (Eastlake) 1 goal, 0 assist, 1 point
•Christian Gonzalez (Southwest) 1 goal, 0 assist, 1 point
•Nick Rodriguez (Eastlake) 0 goal, 1 assist, 1 point
CIF-Metro Conference 2013-14 Standings
(Based on reported results through March 3)â€¨
South Bay League
Southwest Raiders 12-0, 16-5
Castle Park Trojans 8-4, 10-10-1
Mar Vista Mariners 7-5, 8-13
Chula Vista Spartans 2-10, 2-19
Sweetwater Red Devils 1-11, 2-19
Eastlake Titans 9-0, 17-5
Otay Ranch Mustangs 4-5, 8-10-1
Bonita Vista Barons 4-5, 14-8
Hilltop Lancers 1-8, 10-11
Cathedral Catholic Dons 7-2, 10-8
West Hills Wolf Pack 5-4, 9-12
La Jolla Country Day Torreys 4-5, 10-10
St. Augustine Saints 2-7, 6-13
North County League
Rancho Bernardo Broncos 10-2, 19-2
Westview Wolverines 10-2, 19-2
Poway Titans 6-6, 12-8
Scripps Ranch Falcons 4-8, 10-11
Del Norte Nighthawks 0-12, 1-17
Note: Overall records for Mesa/South Bay league teams includes placement games in the Pam Wiser Memorial Cup
CIF-Metro Conference Scoring Leaders
(Final Regular Season)
Sweetwater District Teams
•Aaron Mayer (Eastlake) 83 goals, 67 assists, 150 pointsâ€¨
•Jonathan O’Brien (Bonita Vista) 89 goals, 9 assists, 98 points
•Angel Rocha (Southwest) 75 goals, 12 assists, 87 pointsâ€¨
•Michael Mechling (Eastlake) 40 goals, 32 assists, 72 pointsâ€¨
•Sam Bawden (Eastlake) 35 goals, 20 assists, 55 pointsâ€¨
•Devyn Taras (Otay Ranch) 38 goals, 14 assists, 52 points
•Nick Ziccardi (Eastlake) 24 goals, 14 assists, 38 pointsâ€¨
•Will Winters (Eastlake) 23 goals, 10 assists, 33 pointsâ€¨
•Nacho Mireles (Castle Park) 26 goals, 4 assists, 30 points
•Nick Rodriguez (Eastlake) 23 goals, 8 assists, 31 pointsâ€¨
•Danny Castillo (Eastlake) 22 goals, 6 assists, 28 pointsâ€¨
•Phillip Fuñe (Hilltop) 20 goals, 5 assists, 25 pointsâ€¨
•Carlos Barrios (Otay Ranch) 17 goals, 8 assists, 25 pointsâ€¨
•Andrew Tesner (Hilltop) 17 goals, 8 assists, 25 pointsâ€¨
•Eloy Rodriguez (Mar Vista) 21 goals, 3 assists, 24 points
•Sebastian Ross (Hilltop) 19 goals, 5 assists, 24 points
•Ulises Mireles (Sweetwater) 20 goals, 2 assist, 22 pointsâ€¨
•Billy Warren (Mar Vista) 18 goals, 2 assists, 20 pointsâ€¨
•Mikey Thompson (Chula Vista) 16 goals, 3 assist, 19 pointsâ€¨
•Miguel Flores (Castle Park) 15 goals, 4 assists, 19 pointsâ€¨
•Thomas Giltner (Bonita Vista) 14 goals, 5 assist, 19 points
•Henry Avalos (Southwest) 12 goals, 7 assists, 19 pointsâ€¨
•Ricardo Mendoza (Eastlake) 6 goals, 9 assists, 15 pointsâ€¨
•Giancarlo Dongo (Bonita Vista) 12 goals, 2 assists, 14 points
•Austin Hoffman (Mar Vista) 9 goals, 4 assists, 13 points
•Ruben Ponce (Otay Ranch) 8 goals, 4 assists, 12 pointsâ€¨
•Danny Diaz (Southwest) 6 goals, 5 assists, 11 pointsâ€¨
•Freddie Perez (Castle Park) 9 goals, 1 assists, 10 pointsâ€¨
•Pablo Corona (Hilltop) 9 goals, 1 assist, 10 pointsâ€¨
•Ellia Manzo (Chula Vista) 8 goals, 2 assists, 10 pointsâ€¨
•Sheina Dunnells (Bonita Vista) 3 goals, 7 assists, 10 pointsâ€¨
•Evan Lovstrom (Mar Vista) 7 goals, 1 assist, 8 pointsâ€¨
•Dane Bottomley (Mar Vista) 7 goals, 1 assist, 8 pointsâ€¨
•Christian Gonzalez (Southwest) 7 goals, 1 assist, 8 pointsâ€¨
•Gabe Sanchez (Eastlake) 5 goals, 3 assists, 8 points
•Michelle Dunnells (Bonita Vista) 5 goals, 3 assists, 8 points
•Danny Godinez (Hilltop) 3 goals, 5 assists, 8 pointsâ€¨
•Mario Licudine (Sweetwater) 6 goals, 1 assist, 7 pointsâ€¨
•Adrian Contreras (Mar Vista) 5 goals, 2 assists, 7 pointsâ€¨
•Michael Luquin (Otay Ranch) 4 goals, 2 assists, 6 pointsâ€¨
•Gerardo Martinez (Hilltop) 4 goals, 2 assists, 6 points
•Marvin Cirignano (Castle Park) 5 goals, 0 assists, 5 pointsâ€¨
•Isaac Montero (Castle Park) 4 goals, 1 assist, 5 points
•David Lopez (Castle Park 1 goal, 1 assist, 5 pointsâ€¨
•Cindy Moeller (Mar Vista) 3 goals, 2 assists, 5 points
•Cameron Adams (Hilltop) 3 goals, 2 assists, 5 points