CIF-SS Division 1 champions fall behind early, lose to San Clemente, 3-1

Santa Barbara’s Brandon Garcia (19) and Juan Carlos Torres (23) watch San Clemente goalkeeper Ryan Kowarch tip Torres’ shot off the cross bar.Click to view larger

Santa Barbara’s Brandon Garcia (19) and Juan Carlos Torres (23) watch San Clemente goalkeeper Ryan Kowarch tip Torres’ shot off the cross bar. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

By Barry Punzal, Noozhawk Sports Editor | @NoozhawkSports | March 8, 2018 | 11:33 p.m.

The Santa Barbara High fans applauded in appreciation after the final whistle blew.

The incredible season the Dons’ boys soccer team put together had come to an end in the semifinals of the CIF SoCal Regionals.

Fourth-seeded San Clemente scored early goals in each half and escaped some close calls by Santa Barbara to take a 3-1 decision on Thursday at San Marcos High’s Warkentin Stadium.

It was only the second loss of the season for Santa Barbara (19-2-3), which last week won the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title, the seventh section title in program history.

“This game today doesn’t take away anything we’ve accomplished all year long,” Santa Barbara coach Todd Heil said. “We’ve accomplished things we sometimes only dream about and we did it. And, we added a star to the program, which is something we always try to do with our tradition.”

San Clemente (19-5-6) will play at No. 3 seed Loyola in the championship game on Saturday. Loyola defeated No. 2 Cathedral 2-1 in the other semifinal.

“You look at the last four teams that are left and it’s the Southern Section; it’s literally our semifinals all over again,” Heil said. “We’ve already accomplished that, we’ve already won that.

“The boys gave everything they had today. We’re just tired, we’re beat up and banged up; we’re having to carry guys off the field.”

Santa Barbara goalkeeper Ben Roach goes above San Clemente forward Quinn Richards to snatch the ball.Click to view larger

Santa Barbara goalkeeper Ben Roach goes above San Clemente forward Quinn Richards to snatch the ball. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

Battling fatigue and injuries, the Dons came close to scoring first in the game as sophomore forward Juan Carlos Torres laid a ball off for Jorge Ochoa for a clear shot on goal. San Clemente goalkeeper Ryan Kowarch made a terrific save, leaping up to punch Ochoa’s shot over the cross bar in the fifth minute.

Santa Barbara goalkeeper Ben Roach, who was amazing in the section semifinals and final, came up big for the Dons in a one-on-one situation with Tritons’ forward Quinn Richards. He came off his line to cut off the angle and forced Richards to shoot the ball high. He clanked it off the bar.

Roach, however, couldn’t stop Blake Bowen’s blast off a nifty pass from Tristan Weber on a quick counterattack up the left side. The shot to the far post gave San Clemente a 1-0 lead in the 14th minute.

The goal was the first scored against Santa Barbara in three games.

“When you’re playing against somebody that gave up nine goals all year and had 17 shutouts, to score that early, I was very excited,” said San Clemente coach Michael Pronier.

Santa Barbara created a great chance at a tying goal two minutes later. Jackson Wright hit a diagonal ball to the far post, where Gavin Guilfoyle headed on goal. But he was denied by a diving save from Kowarch.

Then Torres was unlucky on a blast from 20 yards as it banged off the cross bar in the 26th minute. Harrison Foy had a header sail over the bar in the 39th minute. 

“We played better today than we played on Tuesday,” Heil said of the overtime win over Fresno-Sunnyside. “We had a little step and looked better soccer-wise against a better team. I told them at halftime, I felt like if we tied it up we had a chance to win this thing.”

San Clemente coach Michael Pronier felt fortunate the Dons didn’t get the equalizer.

“We have had a little luck to keep scores where they’re at,” he said. “I’m appreciative of the soccer gods.”

The missed opportunities came back to haunt the Dons. San Clemente made it 2-0 one minute into the second half. Richards hit a crossing ball that trickled through the 6-yard yard box and Andrew Burror finished it to put Santa Barbara in a deep hole. 

“You give up two early goals in both halves and that is something you don’t want to do,” Heil said. “That’s uncharacteristic of us.”

Said Pronier: “We had a little room to play. I think they were tired from the three overtimes that they’d gone through. We didn’t play in a final, so I think we were a little fresher. We went wide and our outside players did very well.”

Santa Barbara started its climb out of a two-goal deficit two minutes after the Tritons’ second goal. Heymar Hernandez beat two defenders as he dribbled across the top of the 18-yard box and turned up toward the end line. He crossed the ball beautifully to Torres whose header pinged off the cross bar. Ochoa followed the shot and buried the rebound to make it a 2-1 game.

The tiring Dons, however, couldn’t sustain the momentum and San Clemente’s slick and quick Bowen took advantage. He drew a foul in the box, giving the Tritons’ a penalty kick in the 55th minute. Weber converted for a 3-1 lead, getting Roach to go the other way on his shot.

Santa Barbara created some other scoring chances, but it wasn’t to be on this day.

“It was going to be very hard to pull the double,” Heil said of following a Division 1 section title with a regional title. “The motivation for us is we just accomplished what (the other three teams) want. You’re just playing for a title we’ve already won. “That’s what we feel like.”

He praised his “incredible senior class and what it accomplished.

“In no way am I sad we lost the game,” Heil said. “I’m just sad our ride together and our journey together as a team is over. It’s been an incredible ride and an incredible journey with these boys. The hardest part is not the loss in of itself, it’s that the journey comes to an end.”

Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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