On Monday morning, the Santa Barbara High boys soccer team first faced off against Channel Islands High and defeated them in penalties, 5-3, to advance to the championship round of the South Torrance Tournament later in the evening.
In the final, Santa Barbara ran into a juggernaut program, San Clemente.
“They’re the number six team in the nation. They’re the number one team in California, and they’re the number one team in our division so they a great program,” Dons coach Todd Heil said.
Even though they were down a couple of key players, including goalkeeper Connor Lambe who had to sit the game due to receiving a red card against Channel Islands, the Dons gave the Tritons everything they could handle before falling 2-1 to suffer their first loss of the season.
“We gave them everything they could have asked for more and I’m really proud of our boys. We’re missing two guys that could have helped us out a little bit, and I’m just really proud of the performance and these five games (at the South Torrance tournament),” Heil said.
Santa Barbara (10-1-1) fell behind early against San Clemente (11-0) after Blake Lipofsky put away a beautiful finish just four minutes into the contest.
Even playing from behind, however, the Dons never strayed too far from their offense, relying on their speed and quickness to work the ball into the final third. In the first half, Santa Barbara took seven shots with a healthy amount of those on goal.
At about the 20th-minute mark, the Dons aggressive tempo paid off as they earned a corner kick.
Luisangel Jeronimo kicked the ball across and Luke Goodman, who had a running start, outjumped the entire San Clemente defense and connected on the service to level the match at 1-1.
“I liked the fact that you look across the field and they have a lot of tall kids. They have some size and we got up and hammered that one,” Heil said.
“They scored in the first four minutes, so that really puts you on your heels and you’re already questioning yourself to begin the game playing the number one team in California, but then to tie that thing up it just gives you such a boost of adrenaline and confidence.”
Unfortunately, about 10 minutes after Santa Barbara’s goal, San Clemente answered back to retake the lead. The Tritons junior forward Nelson Tabarez trapped a ball played into him, then fired it from about 15 yards out and found the bottom left corner to give his team the 2-1 advantage.
In the second half, the Tritons had five corner kicks within the first 30 minutes with one in particular just missing high of giving them a two-score lead.
In the games final 10 minutes, however, Santa Barbara was back on the attack and had two great opportunities to level the match one more time.
First, with about eight minutes left, senior defender Alberto Vargas threw the ball all the way into the 18-yard box. His pass found senior forward Juan Carlos Torres, the Dons’ prolific scorer.
Torres headed the ball but the Tritons keeper got just enough of a hand on it to put the ball up and hit the top of the post before being played out.
Just a few minutes later, Santa Barbara’s Diego Espinoza played the ball into sophomore Cason Goodman who was one on one with the keeper, but could not get it past him, resulting in a save.
“Well, to be honest, I didn’t actually think the ball was going to make it to me, I was just making the run, and it came at my feet and I was like ‘oh my god this is it.’ I think I overthought it a little bit and I didn’t look up and see where the goalie was and I just tried to hit it on frame,” Goodman said.
That would be the Dons final chance before ultimately losing 2-1. Despite the disappointment with the loss, there were still smiles on the player’s faces.
“This showed us how we can keep up with the best teams. Throughout the tournament, we weren’t really challenged and San Clemente is the best team in California so, I am pretty happy that we could keep up with them and just shows that we can go far this season,” Torres said.
One of the most impressive things about Santa Barbara’s 12-game start is the fact that none of their games have been at home.
Beyond the fact that Peabody Stadium is still in the middle of construction, the Dons did not even play at Warkentin Field in San Marcos, where they will play their home games this season.
“We are used to it. I think the frustration was there two years ago and I think our only frustration now is that the stadium was supposed to be done this year but to be honest with you we are just used to it,” Heil said.
“We are used to being on the road and used to being in vans together and used to not having a typical home field to play on so, it is what it is.”
Regardless, Torres, along with other Dons players, are happy with the fact that it will be in front of their home crowd against Camarillo at Warkentin Field.
“Yeah, I’m happy to finally play in front of a home crowd, so they don’t have to drive two hours every game,” Torres said.
The other positive after Monday is the Dons will have about a week and a half off before that contest against Camarillo, giving the team some much-needed rest.
“I’m excited. I think we all deserve a little bit of break. We’ve been working really hard right now so, it’s nice, but I also can’t wait to come back and work hard,” Goodman said.
Goodman also could not hide his excitement that Santa Barbara could face San Clemente again come postseason play.
“Hopefully (we play them). I’m so ready for it, I want them again. I’d play them tomorrow again if we could.”
SAN MARCOS 1, SERGESTROM 0
The Royals capped off their run at the South Torrance Tournament with a win in their fifth-place match.
First San Marcos defeated Sergestrom from Santa Ana 1-0 off a goal from sophomore Sergio Diaz. Diaz rose above the group to finish a header off sophomore Miguel Mondragon’s corner kick.
That win sent the Royals (7-3-3) to face off against Peninsula who they defeated 3-1 after getting on top early and never taking their foot off the pedal.
Levi Sheffey, Juan Escobar, and Miguel Mondragon scored in the win for San Marcos, who went 4-1 at the tournament.
“Miguel is undoubtedly one of our best players. His timing is fantastic. He is always in the right position and anticipates what will happen next. He is important to us on both ends of the field and works to lead by example on the field. He deserves to be recognized in this way,” San Marcos coach Paul McLean said.
The Royals only loss was to San Clemente, who defeated them 7-0.