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Southwest Raiders' record-setting roller hockey season ends with playoff loss Phillip Brents | Fri, Feb 24 2012 09:00 PM

The 2011-12 CIF-Metro Conference roller hockey season will unequivocally be remembered as the Year of the Raiders — the Southwest Raiders, that is.

The Raiders, who had never posted a winning record in 11 years, collected a school-record 17 victories in their history-making 12th campaign.

Though win No. 18 wasn’t forthcoming for the reigning South Bay League champions in Monday’s opening round of the Kiwanis/Don Cerone Memorial Cup championship playoffs at Skate San Diego in National City, team members still let out a few war whoops and brief chants of “ole, ole, ole” following the team’s 5-2 loss to the seventh-seeded La Jolla Country Day Torreys.

Southwest, seeded 10th in the 10-team playoff draw, was a heavy underdog in the match. Yet the Raiders followed their recipe for success this season and once again put a smile across the face of head coach Jerry Nestlerode.

A very wide one, in fact.

“I knew we had a tough match today,” said Nestlerode, whose team finished the season 17-4 with the playoff loss. “La Jolla Country Day has a very talented and hard-skating team and I knew if we tried to get into a run-and-gun type of game with them that our chances of pulling out a win wouldn’t be very good.

“Our kids stuck to a game plan that slowed down the game to benefit us. We played defense for two-and-a-half periods and then tried to open it up. We just couldn’t catch them.”

It appeared the Raiders’ game plan might produce one of the most shocking results ever registered in the history of the Kiwanis Cup playoffs.

At least, it was a heroic effort.

Behind the solid play of first team all-league goaltender Sean Garcia and perfect positional defense by the rest of his teammates, Southwest held the high-scoring Torreys to just one first period goal — and that came in begrudging fashion with 3:48 left in the opening stanza.

LJCD’s Ryan Owsiany rifled in a long shot with 15 seconds elapsed in the second period to double the lead but, for the most part, the Torreys (10-11) found little room to maneuver to drop the hammer on the Raiders.

Goals by Owsiany (his third of the game) and teammate Peter Kuetzing gave LJCD, the third-place finisher in the Central League standings, a 4-0 lead entering the final period. While the Torreys might have had the game in control on the scoreboard, it came in frustrating fashion.

Garcia made more than 30 stops in the game, including what Nestlerode described as a half-dozen “tremendous saves.”

“Sean lived up to his selection as the first team all-league goalie — he proved it in this game,” the Raiders bench boss said. “This was the best game of his career.”

Southwest left its calling card with two goals in the final 5:43 of the game.

Sophomore Angel Rocha, who ranks as one of the South Bay League’s most exciting players to watch, scored the team’s first-ever playoff goal to trim the LJCD lead to 4-1.

Though the Torreys got that back on a goal by Jack Little with 2:03 left, Raider captain Martin Whitfield nailed Southwest’s second playoff goal with 14 seconds remaining in the game.

“Scoring those goals was like a victory to us even though we lost,” Rocha said. “We tried everything our coach told us to do. We executed our best. If it didn’t work, we tried.”

Whitfield echoed Rocha’s comments.

“We’ve all been playing together for a few years now and when we are on the floor together, it’s easy for us to work together,” said Whitfield, who drew an assist on Rocha’s tally.

Whitfield has played four varsity seasons on Southwest’s team. The Raiders won nine games in 2009-10, then a school record, but compiled just two victories last season.

The team had never made the playoffs before.

A change in mental attitude and wholesale belief in a team-oriented system were the appropriate remedies. When Southwest took the floor, the Raiders played hockey.

It was an amazing thing to watch, something almost beautiful.

“Our coach stresses it’s not about winning or losing but about playing the best we can,” Whitfield said. “We let the scoreboard tell us that. But winning definitely feels great.”

Despite Monday’s playoff loss, the Raiders finished the season on a high note.

“I told the team after the game to remember they were South Bay League champions and that nothing could ever take that away from them,” said Nestlerode, who deservedly earned honors as the league’s coach of the year. “I am so proud of this group.”

The team saved one last cheer for itself: “Raiders.”

It was of plural meaning, not singular.

•Poway (19-1) received the No. 1 seed in this year’s championship playoff field while West Hills (15-5) earned the No. 2 seed. The remainder of the field included No. 3 Westview (15-5), No. 4 Rancho Bernardo (12-8), No. 5 Scripps Ranch (14-6) and No. 6 Cathedral Catholic (9-11).

•Mar Vista’s Hunter Calef captured the CIF-Metro Conference scoring title with 90 goals and 106 points.

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