Coming into Wednesday’s CIF-SS Div. 1 first-round match between the Santa Barbara High boys soccer team and Harvard-Westlake, Juan Carlos Torres, the Dons’ star striker, knew it was going to be tough.
Not only did Torres have to worry about a strong Wolverines defense, but he was also battling a nagging right hamstring injury of his own.
Late in the second half, all of Torres’ worst fears were coming to fruition. He re-aggravated his hamstring injury at around the 68th minute and, as he lay on the track adjacent to the field at Warkentin Stadium, his team trailed by one goal.
Not wanting a repeat of last season’s first-round exit, Torres got up and went back in the game.
“This is my last year, I wasn’t going to go out like that,” Torres said.
The senior definitely did not go out like that, instead, he left the stadium a hero.
In the 78th minute, Torres connected on a beautiful shot outside the 18 that found the top-right corner of the net to level the match.
Then, three minutes into the overtime period, Torres again found the back of the net, flicking the ball back off his head and just getting it over Harvard-Westlake’s keeper to stun the Wolverines and give the Dons a 3-2 win, sending them to the second round of the CIF-SS Div. 1 bracket.
“I’m happy with this win. During the game, I had flashbacks to last year and I didn’t like the feeling so I wasn’t gonna have it,” Torres said.
Torres first goal came at a time the Dons looked defeated. Minute by minute the fans packed inside Warkentin Stadium fell more and more silent.
Every single missed shot to that point was met with more groans.
But finally, in the 78th, Torres was able to break free from a tough defense, thanks to the Dons playing four players up in the final third, and received a great side pass from teammate Luisangel Jeronimo.
Torres, even on his bad right leg, still got more than enough of the ball to fire a shot that had just enough curve to it that it hit the far corner of the net.
“I just gave it my all. If they were going to take me out, then at least I knew I had to give it my all … but I knew it was going in,” Torres said.
Just moments before the shot, Torres looked, much like the rest of his team, like he was done. As he was chasing a ball down, he let out a loud scream and immediately clutched his right hamstring.
Coach Todd Heil had a sub ready for him, but Torres managed to get up about a minute later and just ran back into the field.
“I just thought that I wasn’t giving up then. I didn’t come all this way just for my hamstring to be trouble toward the end of my senior season. I wasn’t going to let that happen,” Torres said.
Still, while Torres was confident, Heil knew he had a lot to think about letting the senior back into the game.
“It was a question of how long he would be able to go and we kind of left it up to him and how hard he could push without hurting the team and you keep questioning do we take him out or not,” Heil said.
Ultimately, Heil went with his senior captain and not only did it work out for him in regulation, but he also one-upped himself just a few minutes later.
In the overtime period, the Dons had new life in them, while the Wolverines, understandably, looked shellshock.
Santa Barbara took advantage by playing the ball up and creating opportunities. In the third minute, senior defender Alberto Vargas threw the ball in deep into the 18.
Torres was right there waiting for the ball and just flicked it with the back of his head, just landing over the head of the Wolverines’ keeper to secure the win for the Dons.
“We had momentum going our way since we scored in the last minutes and I was just going to go in and get it. Its playoffs, one mistake and the season is over like ours almost was so I just wanted to rise up for these guys and their families,” Torres said.
Asked what the emotions were after the final shot went in, Torres responded “happiness and joy.”
As for Heil, he knew after the match he made the right decision sticking with Torres.
“It’s a really good thing we didn’t take him out by the way,” Heil joked after the game.
“Freddie, my assistant, and I were looking at each other a few times just wondering, ‘do we just go with a fresher body, or do you allow an 80% of JC to see what he can do’ and we went with the 80% of a JC and thank goodness we did.”
While Torres delivered on the offensive end, it was senior keeper Connor Lambe that also kept the Dons in the contest.
Santa Barbara took the early 1-0 lead eight minutes in when Jorge Ochoa connected on a header, but Harvard-Westlake responded with two goals, one in the middle of the first half and one in the first 10 minutes of the second half to take a 2-1 lead.
“I felt the clock running down and then I heard 13 minutes and five but I just had that feeling we would get that goal,” Lambe said.
“I was just thinking in my head I mean I know we’re to one down right now but I know we’re just like really had to keep the backline solid and give us a chance.”
From there, the Wolverines stayed on the attack, looking for the insurance goal to seal the win.
In particular, in the 76th minute, a shot from a Wolverines’ player inside the 18 looked like it would easily find the back of the net, but Lambe stuck his legs out for a great leg save that would eventually be cleared. Moments before, he used his hands to go up high and snag another tough shot. All-in-all, Lambe had eight saves.
With the win, the Dons will face Mater Dei, who won 6-1 Wednesday, on the road Friday. Heil hopes Torres’ hamstring will recover enough to play in that one.
“I’m not gonna lie It’s gonna be tough but we’re going to have fun, and we’re going to go down there and try to keep this going,” Heil said.