Winning a San Diego Section championship was nothing new for West Hills High School boys soccer coach Russ Shubert. He first accomplished the feat by helping lead Hilltop to the 1993 Division II title as the team’s technical director.
But when West Hills defeated Central Union by a score of 2-1 in the San Diego Section Division III championship game Feb. 23 at Mission Bay High School, it marked the first time the Wolf Pack had ever won a section title.
“I’ve been at West Hills for 16 seasons now and this was our first CIF championship, it’s been a long time,” Shubert remarked in the afterglow of the history-making achievement.
Senior Rian Stiles scored both goals in the final for the Wolf Pack, who finished the season with an overall 19-4-3 record following a 4-2 loss in a shootout tiebreaker at second-seeded Torrance West in the opening round of the Southern California regional playoffs on Feb. 26.
The Wolf Pack was obviously not far off the mark from advancing after battling Torrance West to a scoreless draw through regulation and overtime.
Shubert said this year’s success came after the team had posted a tough but uncharacteristic 5-15-3 season in 2017-18.
“We were very young a season before and scheduled some very tough teams and took our lumps,” Shubert said. “We thought we’d learn but still get some wins. It didn’t quite work out but they all came back with awesome attitudes and got to work.”
That hard work paid off.
West Hills finished runner-up to El Cajon Valley in the Grossmont Valley League standings with a 7-2-1 record to earn the No. 10 seed in the Division III section playoffs.
The Wolf Pack proved to be the bracket buster after recording wins against four higher-seeded teams.
West Hills defeated seventh-seeded Vista, 1-0, in the opening round, then knocked out second-seeded Southwest El Centro, 6-5, in a shootout tiebreaker.
The Wolf Pack defeated third-seeded Sage Creek, 3-1, in the semifinals to meet eighth-seeded Central Union in the final.
A 2-0 win by Central Union over fifth-seeded Valhalla prevented this year’s Division III section championship game from being an all-East County final.
If there was a common thread to West Hills’ magical playoff run, it was that all the games were played off campus.
“All three playoff games were road games, with the final being at a neutral site,” Shubert explained. “We took a 2-0 lead into halftime of the final. We defended really well as a team, counter-attacked quickly. They scored with five minutes left off a corner kick but we stayed under control to see out the game.”
Micheil Ross scored in the third minute of sudden-victory overtime to lift Hilltop to the 1993 title — its third CIF title in school history — via a 1-0 win over San Pasqual. Ronnie Silva and Billy Bradley drew assists on the game-winning play that developed off a quick restart.
“It was hair-raising,” Shubert said at the time. “But the whole defense played outstanding. It was an all-around effort.
“It came down to our seniors … We were loose. I told them before the game to just go out and have fun. They came through.”
Then and now
Shubert has coached within the San Diego United club program for the past half dozen years. He is currently the head coach of two teams in the San Diego United club program – the boys 2004 team and the girls 2004 team (for which his daughter plays).
“Both are very solid teams with the girls 04 team ranked 54th in California,” Shubert said. “The boys won their league last year undefeated. The girls were in five of seven finals of tournaments they entered last year and finished second in their league on points but lost a tie-breaker and landed in third.”
Shubert still has fond memories of Hilltop’s 1993 CIF championship season.
“I remember every minute of the season and game,” Shubert said. “Great game and victory in OT. Sadly, we lost Mike Ross. He passed away from cancer some years ago now. Mikey scored that goal for us — Ronnie Silva to Billy Bradley, cross and Mikey runs on and heads the ball over the goalkeeper.
“We had played San Pasqual in the San Diego Holiday tournament and won that in overtime as well, 2-1. Both that Hilltop team and this West Hills team have lots of similarities. Almost the same records, both only lost four games all year, neither won the league, but were so good in their respective playoff runs.
“Both teams were teams — neither relied on one player but played as complete teams. Each had a leading scorer – Hilltop, Oscar Figueroa, and West Hills, Rian Stiles — but each played within a team concept. Both had stellar defenses and goalkeepers. West Hills only gave up 17 goals all year, three were PKs, and had 11 shutouts. Each team won a game in the CIF run in PKs.”
Sockers (16-1) top Fury in OT, run win streak to 14 games
The San Diego Sockers improved to 4-0 in overtime this season after defeating the Ontario Fury, 7-6, with a golden goal by franchise scoring leader Kraig Chiles on Sunday (March 10) at Ron Newman Field at Pechanga Arena San Diego.
Chiles scored from the middle of the box on a Landon Donovan wall assist 1:43 into the sudden-victory overtime period as the Sockers scored the final three goals of the match, including overtime, in front of 4,517 fans.
The game-winning goal came via a Brandon Escoto distribution into the attacking right corner, putting Donovan under pressure near the wall. Sensing two defenders around him, Donovan poked the ball off the goal wall into the middle of the penalty area to a sliding Chiles, who was able to drag the ball into the net for his second of the night and 21st goal of the year, his fifth game-winner this season.
“We knew that possession was going to pay off,” Chiles remarked after the game, “We knew they were short-handed, the sixth attacker goal was big time for us, and once we got to overtime we were pretty confident.”
The Fury (8-11) lost its third consecutive game while falling to 1-5 in overtime this season.
San Diego dominated possession in the second quarter but struggled to beat Ontario keeper Chris Toth (20 saves), who very much resembled the two-time MASL goalkeeper of the year in the first half. In the waning seconds of the half, Ray Contreras of the Sockers bent a forward pass to Travis Pittman, who struck with the right foot first time, smashing a ball over former Socker Toth’s shoulder with 6.9 seconds remaining in the half to knot the score 2-2.
A wild third frame saw San Diego take its first lead of the night on Cesar Cerda’s wicked volley from the right wing into the left-side netting, only to then concede twice on set pieces by Maicon de Abreu and Evan McNeley, restoring a 4-3 Fury lead at 11:34 of the quarter.
On their first power play of the night, the Sockers tied the score on Donovan’s left-footed strike through the corner netting on an Escoto assist. Escoto saw his eight-match
goal scoring streak come to an end but contributed three assists.
San Diego’s comeback began with a bit of fortune, as the Fury were flagged for too many men on the field and levied a blue card penalty with 11:18 remaining in the match. Escoto crossed the box with a pass to Chiles on the left wing, who rolled home his 20th goal of the season at 4:45 to draw the Sockers within one.
After Ontario’s DeBray Hollimon missed a hot pass to an open back post in the closing minutes that could have iced the result, San Diego pulled goalkeeper Boris Pardo in favor of Hiram “Pollo” Ruiz as the sixth attacker.
Battling for the game-tying goal, the Sockers pressed in the attacking third. Escoto’s high cross pass looked destined for the stands but tickled the top of the glass and stayed in play, nudged by Donovan to Leo DeOliveira on the left wing. The Brazilian’s skipping shot deflected off the leg of de Abreu and past Toth at 12:48 for the equalizer, sending the Sockers bench into exultation.
Minutes later, Donovan was proving his skill as a pupil with a “wallascora” on the game-winning golden goal.
“That has been probably the hardest adjustment, offensively and defensively, I can’t figure out where the ball’s going off the boards,” said a chuckling Donovan after the match. “Kraig Chiles is a goal-scoring machine, and I just had a feeling that if I put it anywhere in the right place he was going to get there, and he did all the work.”
The Sockers improved to 5-0 against the Fury, despite needing to come from behind in all three of their meetings in San Diego. The two clubs will lock boots one more time on April 4 in Ontario.
San Diego concludes a three-match homestand on Friday (March 15) when they welcome the Dallas Sidekicks to town for a 7:35 p.m. kickoff.