The San Diego Section qualified a record six teams for last weekend’s seventh annual Southern California regional soccer championships and four teams came home with championship trophies, the Southwest Raiders among them.
The Raiders, seeded fourth in the Division II boys bracket, defeated second-seeded Simi Valley Royal, 3-1, Saturday at Warren High School in Downey to cap a perfect 6-0 run through post-season competition, the section and regional playoffs combined.
Southwest High School principal Lee Romero called the Raiders' state regional championship a historic event not only for the school but also for the Sweetwater Union High School District.
"No other sport in our district has made it to a regional CIF state final and won," Romero said. "It was a memorable event. It has to be a highlight in my 26 years in education. I am incredibly proud."
The Raiders, who last won a section title in 2003, join the Mater Dei Catholic Crusaders as the second Metro Conference team to win a Southern California regional soccer championship. The Crusaders became the first boys soccer team from the section in any division to win the state regional title when they defeated top-seeded Los Angeles Salesian, 2-1, to capture the 2009 Division III title.
Southwest defeated San Dieguito Academy, 2-1, in overtime to claim the San Diego Section’s Division I championship on March 8 to complete an undefeated 3-0 run through the section playoffs.
However, the state playoffs are conducted by student enrollment level and not by competition tier (as in the section playoffs), thus placing Southwest in Division II for the state regional playoffs.
The Raiders (21-2-4) defeated fifth-seeded Baldwin Park, 4-1, on March 11 to begin their quest for a state regional championship and then recorded a stunning 2-1 upset of top-seeded Los Angeles Cathedral on March 13 to qualify for the regional title match.
While the regional finals took place in Downey, the Raiders still had plenty of home support. Four busloads of students and staff made the trip to the game site and they immediately began cheering for their team once seated.
And the cheering paid off after the San Diego Section champions, facing a one-goal deficit early in the match, responded with three unanswered goals to capture the milestone victory.
Senior Rafael Espinoza, the team’s season scoring leader, figured prominently in his team’s biggest victory of the season with one goal and one assist.
He scored on a penalty kick in the 49th minute – nine minutes into the second half – to push the Raiders ahead, 2-1, on the scoreboard. The goal – his 28th this season -- would stand up as the game-winner.
Trent Madison gave Royal (25-5) an early 1-0 lead on goal in the 10th minute of the regional title match. However, Southwest ‘s Jerry Mendoza scored the equalizer in the 26th minute.
Following Espinoza’s go-ahead goal on the PK, the Raiders (21-2-4) closed out scoring with four minutes to play as senior Brandon Mejia drew the honors, assisted by teammate Gabriel Alamillo. The Southwest fans’ outpouring of love for their team could no longer be restrained, as festive chants of “Beat L.A.! Beat L.A!” rang up from the large gathering of red-clad Raider faithful.
It was a magical moment.
Raider players went out of their way in post-game interviews to acknowledge how much they appreciated the fan supoort, including Espinoza, who with five goals in three regional playoff contests, clearly carried his team on his back.
Espinoza scored two goals in Southwest’s upset of top-seeded Los Angeles Cathedral in the regional semifinals. He also tallied two times in the Raiders’ win over Baldwin Park.
It was Alamillo’s goal in overtime in the section final that started Southwest on its state championship quest.
Southwest clearly had the better of the play in the regional championship game, with goalkeeper Juan Barrera credited with six saves while his counterpart for Royal, Fernando Lanuza, was credited with 11 saves.
Romero said the success of the boys soccer team has raised school spirit and pride through the roof.
“Because of this team, our school has learned that with hard work, practice and determination you can accomplish anything,” Romero said. “Our boys won a state CIF finals because of this.”
Rene Ortiz, one of Southwest’s most celebrated soccer alumni, was beaming at a recent Chula Vista Xolos youth club practice.
“I’ve always said that the talent in the South Bay is on par with the rest of the San Diego Section,” said Ortiz, a 1987 Southwest graduate who went on to play professionally with the San Diego Sockers. “If you put in the hard work, the results will come.”
Parade of champions
Other regional champions from San Diego County included Westview (Division I girls), Cathedral Catholic (Division II girls) and Francis Parker (Division III girls).
Cathedral Catholic’s state title is significant in that the top-seeded Dons (26-2-3) defeated a fellow San Diego Section opponent, third-seeded La Costa Canyon (19-6-3), in the regional championship game.
The state title was the second consecutive for Cathedral Catholic and third in the seven-year history of the event. Sunny Dunphy and Tamara Gomez each scored goals to enable the Dons to claim their latest state championship. Pilar Torres scored her 24th goal of the season to draw LCC into a 1-1 tie at halftime.
The Dons, reigning San Diego Section Division I champions, finished the season with a 24-game unbeaten streak (22-0-2), including the win over the San Diego Section Open Division champion Mavericks.
Meanwhile, top-seeded Westview (20-8-4) defeated second-seeded Chino Hills, 2-1, behind goals from Angel Meriwether and Cassie Taniguchi while third-seeded Francis Parker (26-1-2) edged fourth-seeded Santa Monica Marymount (15-6-3) by a 3-2 score on the strength of two goals by Sasha Stephens and a single marker by Natalie Schmidt.
San Diego Section Open Division boys champion Carlsbad, seeded sixth, finished runner-up in the Division I boys regional final to top-seeded Loyola (30-0-6) by a score of 2-1. The Lancers, who recorded upsets of No. 3 San Clemente and No. 2 Van Nuys Birmingham to reach the final, closed out their season with a 20-5-3 record.
Of the six state finalists, four won section titles — Carlsbad and LCC in the Open Division, Cathedral and Southwest in Division I. Westview lost to LCC in the Open Division finals while Francis Parker finished as a semifinalist in Division II.
Road to a State Championship
San Diego Section Playoffs
Boys Division I
(2) Southwest 2, (7) Calexico 0
(2) Southwest 3, (6) Escondido 0
(2) Southwest 2, (9) San Dieguito Academy 1 (OT)
State Regional Playoffs
Boys Division II
(4) Southwest 4, (5) Baldwin Park 1
(4) Southwest 2, (1) Los Angeles Cathedral 1
(4) Southwest 3, (2) Simi Valley Royal 1
Rafael Espinoza 28 goals, 7 assists, 63 points
Bernardo Leyva 8 goals, 10 assists, 26 points
Gabriel Alamillo 9 goals, 7 assists, 25 points
Jerry Mendoza 5 goals, 1 assisst, 11 points
Carlos Ortiz 3 goals, 1 assist, 7 points
Dario Baeza 3 goals, 0 asssit, 6 points
David Flores 3goals, 0 assist, 6 points
Jose Mendoza 2 goals, 0 assist, 4 points
Brandon Mejia 1 goal, 1 assist, 3 points
Hector Silahua 1 goal, 1 assist, 3 points
David Chavarin 1 goal, 1 assist, 3 points
Migual Vizcarra 1 goal, 0 assist, 2 points
Gerardo Lopez 1 goal, 0 assist, 2 points
Alfredo Adame 1 goal, 0 assist, 2 points
Jaziel Galaviz 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point
Tony Garcia 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point
Note: two goals for each goal, one point for each assist
Team shutouts: 11