Entering the week, the prize for five South County high school soccer teams was an appearance in this weekend’s San Diego Section championship games. It remains so for one local side after successfully navigating the often cantankerous and unpredictable divisional semifinals.
Three boys teams took the field on Tuesday (Feb. 22): the Hilltop Lancers (seeded first in Division II), Southwest Raiders (seeded second in Division III) and Mater Dei Catholic Crusaders (seeded second in Division IV).
Two girls teams advanced from last Saturday’s quarterfinals to make appearances in Wednesday’s (Feb. 23) semifinals: the Eastlake Titans (seeded third in Division I) and Bonita Vista Barons (seeded third in Division II).
The lone survivor is Hilltop.
The Lancers (20-2-3) will play second-seeded La Costa Canyon (12-5-2) Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at Serra High School.
Hilltop secured its second consecutive Division II finals appearance by blowing past fifth-seeded Scripps Ranch 4-0. Senior Omar Hernandez scored his 24th and 25th goals of the season to spark the host team, which led 1-0 at halftime on a goal scored in the 21st minute by senior defender Ricardo Valdez.
Danny Valenzuela, a late substitute, rounded out Hilltop’s goal parade by scoring in injury time to the delight of the festive home crowd.
Six-foot-four junior goalkeeper Adrian Zendejas made nine saves to record the team’s fifth consecutive shutout, his ninth this season and the Lancers’ 11th overall.
Oscar Ortega, Abdiel Flores, Christian Vera and Gerardo Zuniga all received credit for assists in the victory.
Hilltop players spoke of getting a second chance to redeem themselves after failing to allow a goal in three playoff matches last season but falling in KFM (kicks from the mark) in the championship final to Mesa League rival Bonita Vista.
“It’s great,” said senior midfielder Jimmy Estrada, last season’s Mesa League and Division II Player of the Year. “The second chance is for me, too, since I’ve been hurt. We were very motivated to get back to the championship game. We want the rings.”
Valdez booted in a loose ball after it rebounded off the fast post on a corner kick originally taken by Flores. Ironically, a Lancer shot had hit the same post three minutes earlier but bounced away.
“Not all teams are lucky enough to get a second chance,” Valdez said. “We want to win it this time.”
The two-time defending Mesa League champion Lancers did not waste their opportunities in Tuesday’s semifinal match against the Falcons (17-9) after edging the visiting Valhalla Norsemen (7-8-6), 1-0 in overtime, in last Friday’s quarterfinals. The hosts dominated the quarterfinal match from beginning to end but were thwarted by their lack of finishing as well as by Valhalla goalkeeper Stefan Isensee.
Ortega, a recent attendee of the U.S. 17U residency camp in Florida, finally found the right combination to win the game by threading a pass to Hernandez, who had managed to sneak behind the Norsemen defense.
Hernandez, who found himself shockingly alone in front of the net, calmly pushed in a shot with six minutes left in the 15-minute sudden-victory overtime period to allow the Lancers to heave a huge collective sigh of relief.
“We were constantly telling the guys that they couldn’t dominate a game for so long and not have any goals to show for it because all it took was one freaky play for the other team to win,” HHS head coach John Salts said.
“I was very proud of our team to continue to push. They never let down. They controlled the game but were unlucky on so many occasions not to find the back of the net. Sometimes that can get a team frustrated and put it off its game.”
Zendejas was required to make seven stops in recording the shutout.
Scripps Ranch, which upset fourth-seeded Mt. Carmel, 2-1 in overtime, in the quarterfinals, provided much more flash up front than did the Norsemen.
“Scripps Ranch was the best attacking team we’ve seen all season,” Salts said. “For our four defenders to stand up and stop them was beautiful.”
The Lancers have yet to allow a goal in the playoffs over a span of two seasons.
Salts lauded the continued excellent play from fullbacks Saul Carrillo, Enrique Maldonado, Zuniga and Valdez — all seniors.
“We changed our formation just before we started league play and went four flat across the back,” the HHS coach said.
It has worked out masterfully so far.
Salts said he senses a different attitude from his team entering this year’s championship game.
“Last year we went into the game with a bit of an air,” he said. “We had beaten Bonita twice on the season and, combined with the jitters of playing in the CIF final, we went in overconfident. Now we know it’s not over until the final whistle blows. The guys feel they have unfinished business.”
South Bay League champion Southwest (15-4-2) saw its nine-game winning streak end following a disappointing 1-0 loss to sixth-seeded St. Augustine (16-5-4) in a game played at Montgomery High School.
The Raiders, who were coming off a 3-0 victory against the 10th-seeded Olympian Eagles (12-10-1) in last Friday’s quarterfinals, showcased speed and deft ball movement but couldn’t find the back of the net against a scrappy Saints defense.
Southwest’s Luis Espinoza slammed a shot off the crossbar with 23 minutes remaining in the second half only to have the game remain scoreless.
Ten minutes later, St. Augustine’s Anthony Tangredi logged the game’s lone goal on a disputed offside call. Ike Arinze was given credit for the assist.
The Raiders attacked furiously for the final 13 minutes of the game but to no avail.
Southwest bench boss Memo Medina felt his team’s season ended prematurely. “To dominate the game and lose on a garbage goal …”
Raiders players wore stunned looks on their faces following the match, some trying their best to hold back tears.
The upset win was the second consecutive for the Saints, who defeated third-seeded University City, 4-0, in last Friday’s quarterfinals. Dominic Chavez scored twice to lead St. Augustine, which also benefitted from goals by Spencer Calvert and Daniel Johnston. Aaron Martinez was credited with six saves in recording the shutout.
Martinez also blanked the Raiders.
UC entered the playoffs 17-2-2.
Southwest scored three second-half goals to down Olympian. Francisco Ramirez scored all three goals, with assists credited to Jaime Verdin and Luis Nunez. Goalkeeper Miguel Serrano made five saves to earn the shutout victory.
The Eagles had advanced to the quarterfinals with a gutsy 5-2 road victory at seventh-seeded Santana (12-10-2) in the opening round on Feb. 21.
The Saints, who feature a small contingent of South County players headed by Flavio Borquez and Carlos Lopez, will face top-seeded Cathedral Catholic (18-5-3) in Saturday’s Division III title game. Kick-off is 10:45 a.m. at Mater Dei Catholic High School.
The host Crusaders (15-6-1) also fell short in Tuesday’s semifinals, dropping a KFM tiebreaker to visiting Francis Parker, after recording a resounding 5-1 victory over Bishop’s in the quarterfinals.
The Lancers prevailed 4-3 in Tuesday’s tiebreaker after both teams had battled to a 2-2 overtime draw.
Francis Parker will take an 18-1-3 record into Saturday’s Division IV championship game against top-seeded Coronado (20-2-1) at Serra High School (1:30 p.m. start) as well as a 13-match unbeaten streak.
The Lancers’ previous loss was 1-0 to St. Augustine on Jan. 4.
Bishop’s (9-7-3) had earned its share of notoriety after persevering through a marathon 21-19 KFM tiebreaker against Crawford in a first round match that took two days to complete.
On the girls side, Eastlake and Bonita Vista will also have to regroup for next season after going out in Wednesday’s semifinals. Both South County juggernauts faced games against daunting opponents in North County and both came away on the short end of lop-sided scores.
Eastlake ended its season 14-4-2 after suffering a 3-0 setback to second-seeded Carlsbad (17-4-1) while Bonita Vista ended its season 19-5-3 following a 5-1 loss to second-seeded La Costa Canyon (19-3-2).
Pilar Torres led LCC with three goals in the elimination match.
Last Saturday’s quarterfinals, however, proved to be a showcase for both the Titans and Barons, the top two teams in this year’s Mesa League standings.
Eastlake grounded the visiting Grossmont Foothillers, seeded sixth, by a 2-0 score. Brenna Bailey and Alyssa Perry each scored goals while Jovani McCaskill recorded 10 saves.
Grossmont finished the season 13-8-3.
Bonita Vista rocked the visiting Steele Canyon Cougars, seeded sixth, as Jennifer Ballez, Kassy Castillo, Vanessa Davalos and Pascale Dumesnil each scored goals in support of goalkeepers Courtney Langseth (five saves) and Charlotte Guerrero (two saves).
The goal was Castillo’s 17th of the season.
Steele Canyon finished 15-8-2.
SAN DIEGO SECTION SOCCER CHAMPIONSHIPS
Saturday, March 3
Mater Dei Catholic High School
Girls: (1) Cathedral Catholic (16-6-5) vs. (2) Del Norte (23-3), 8:30 a.m.
Boys: (1) Cathedral Catholic (18-5-3) vs. (6) St. Augustine (16-5-4), 10:45 a.m.
Girls: (1) Horizon Christian (19-4-3) vs. (2) Christian (14-9-2), 1 p.m.
Boys: (1) Pacific Ridge (16-0-3) vs. (2) Borrego Springs (17-2-4), 3:15 p.m.
Girls: (2) Carlsbad (17-4-1) vs. (4) San Pasqual (12-5-5), 5:30 p.m.
Boys: (1) San Pasqual (20-1-1) vs. (2) Torrey Pines (20-5-3), 7:45 p.m.
Serra High School
Girls: (1) Coronado (13-5-6) vs. (3) Francis Parker (16-6-3), 11 a.m.
Boys: (1) Coronado (20-2-1) vs. (3) Francis Parker (18-1-3), 1:30 p.m.
Girls: (1) Westview (24-1-2) vs. (2) No. 2 La Costa Canyon (19-3-2), 4 p.m.
Boys: (1) Hilltop (20-2-3) vs. (2) La Costa Canyon (12-5-2), 6:30 p.m.