Wednesday night, it looked like the Santa Barbara boys soccer team would be losing in the first round for the second straight season.
Trailing by one with under two minutes to play, Juan Carlos Torres came to the rescue for the Dons and scored two goals in a five-minute span over the second half and overtime to send his team to the second round.
In the second round of the CIF-SS Div. 1 playoffs on Friday, Santa Barbara faced off against powerhouse Mater Dei, and played some of its best soccer of the season, earning a 2-0 win on the road behind a great defense to advance to the quarterfinals of the Div. 1 bracket.
“I see a lot of fight and passion from these guys and these guys don’t want to see this season end right now. We are playing very energetic and it’s great,” senior goalkeeper Connor Lambe said.
“It was great to be able to go up early and be able to play from that winning position the whole game.”
Torres, who has been battling a hamstring injury for the past couple of weeks, played in the first half against Mater Dei. The senior forward came out at around the 30th minute, however, and did not return.
Coach Todd Heil said the team will focus on getting him healthy before Tuesday’s quarterfinal against Cathedral.
The player who subbed in for Torres was junior forward Brandon Pacheco. The junior picked a good day to have a great day, scoring both goals for the Dons (21-1-4) within a five-minute span of each other before the end of the first half.
In the 33rd minute, Jesus Hernandez, a senior defender for Santa Barbara, headed the ball into the 18-yard box. Once there, Pacheco tracked the ball and fired off shot.
His attempt was blocked by Mater Dei’s keeper, but Pacheco stayed with his shot, collected the rebound and then fired another shot, this one finding the back of the net to put his team in front 1-0.
Five minutes later, in the 38th, Pacheco again received a feed from Hernandez right around the top of the 18. The junior then let the ball rip from there, curling it past a few Mater Dei defenders and right past the Monarchs’ keeper to give his team a 2-0 lead.
“I just saw the ball bouncing around the 18 and I thought ‘I am going to take this shot’ and lucky for me it went in and I was just so hyped. I just ran to the bench and celebrated with my teammates who were just as hyped with me,” Pacheco told to the News-Press.
Asked what allowed him to step up in such a big moment, Pacheco responded saying, “I was just trying to get to the next round. I have been doing good this whole season and I stepped up when we needed it most.”
Heil was also pleased with his team’s ability to be able to jump out to a quick lead and stick to it.
“One thing we have been telling our boys is that we started this year off scoring goals in bunches and we kind of got away from that so it was nice to get two so close together,” Heil said.
In the second half, the Dons were not able to put together a third goal but didn’t need to as their defense was spectacular, picking up their 13th clean sheet of the season.
“It’s not easy to shut out a team like Mater Dei, it was ranked in the Top 10 for the majority of the season,” Heil said.
“This was a huge confidence booster for us. You start to question yourself after giving up two goals but to get a shut out in the second round and on the road is tremendous and gets us back to our game.”
Heil was also very impressed with his senior keeper, saying that “he and his backline as a whole” played a great game.
“Connor is just a great keeper on anything in the 18 or in the air. He is so good on the ball and he had a tremendous night.”
For Lambe, Friday’s shutout was also good to see, saying, “it felt like it had been a while since we had one.”
The senior keeper said he is happy with the way his backline is playing and especially happy with the growth of his two sophomore center backs.
“It great to see how they are developing. They are two center backs that are teachable and willing to learn and that has been a big help and they’ve done well,” Lambe said.
With the win, Santa Barbara will face a familiar foe in Cathedral High. Two years ago, the Dons defeated Cathedral in the CIF Div. 1 title game in penalty kicks in a neutral site at Warren High School.
“They are a really good and solid program and it’s going to be tough playing against them,” Heil said.
Lambe, who was the backup goalkeeper in the Dons CIF title, is also excited to play against the Phantoms, especially with it being at home.
“I just think we need to stick to our game and we will be fine but it’s awesome we get to play at home,” Lambe said.
“The crowd is always there to lift us up and they will be there lifting us up Tuesday.”
For Heil, he has told his team one thing to remember during this playoff run.
“Live in the moment, that’s our thing right now,” Heil said.
“And, in order to keep that going, we have to keep staying within our selves and take it one step at a time.”