Dons’ strong second half not enough in Div. 1 final

DOWNEY — Santa Barbara showed up late to the big dance, and San Clemente took full advantage.

The Tritons scored a goal during a dominating 20 minutes, added a back-breaker just before halftime and then held off a big second-half push by the Dons to win 2-1 in the CIF Division 1 boys soccer final Saturday night at Warren High’s Justice Stadium in Downey.

It was the first soccer title for San Clemente (17-6-6). Santa Barbara (20-6-3), making its second straight finals appearance, was seeking its seventh title in school history. It won the Division 2 championship last year.

The Dons found themselves under siege from the opening whistle. San Clemente used high pressure to prevent them from getting into any kind of rhythm. The Tritons also fired shots from all over the place to test 5-foot-6 goalkeeper Miguel Solis.

“We were just overwhelmed in the first 20 minutes.” Santa Barbara coach Todd Heil said. “They were a better team than we were in the first 20 minutes.”

San Clemente’s first goal came as a result of a hard shot on frame. In the 17th minute, Cal Poly-bound forward Steve Palacios drilled one from the right side and all Solis could do was block it. Senior defender Kevin Gould collected the rebound and smashed the ball into the back of the net to set off a wild Santa Clemente celebration in the stands.

The goal seemed to wake up Santa Barbara as it started to gain control of the ball and generate some attacks.

Down by only one goal, the Dons appeared to have settled into the game and weathered the Triton storm. But then disaster struck in the final 36 seconds before halftime.

Midfielder Fabian Caudillo picked off a Santa Barbara clearance and played the ball wide to forward Tom Wiechert on the right. Wiechert crossed the ball on the ground to a wide-open senior midfielder Bryan Fouch, who beat Solis from close range.

It turned out to be a crushing blow to the Dons.

“That one kind of did us in,” Heil said. “It’s a little harder to come back from two down than down one.”

Santa Barbara came out and played with a greater sense of urgency in the second half. Heil moved senior midfielder Sanford Spivey to forward to give the Dons a stronger presence against a tough San Clemente back line.

“He’s such a force up there, he’s so strong,” said Heil of the Boston University-bound Spivey. “He’s just hard to deal with for other teams. He’s very hard to defend.”

The move paid off as Spivey scored in the 57th minute to put the Dons back in the game. Senior center back Tony Alfaro started the play by recovering a loose ball and feeding junior midfielder Alex Navarro on the left flank. Navarro did a good job holding the ball before crossing it to Spivey in the middle of the box.

Surrounded by defenders, Spivey managed to hold the ball and slip it past San Clemente goalkeeper Dylan DiGiacomo.

“We ignored the first half because we didn’t play so well and we played well in the second half,” said Spivey. “We put in a great performance in the second half. We were the better team.”

Asked about the slow-starting first half, Spivey said, “I don’t know what was in us — a little overconfident or something?They had the upper hand. We came back in the second half and came out fired up.”

The resurgent Dons kept the pressure on and created some good chances to score the equalizer. Alfaro had a header go wide in the 71st minute and Spivey missed wide on a header in the 76th. Ryan Richardson worked his way into the box in the 78th minute but also hit his shot wide.

“I loved our second half,” Heil said. “I loved our determination and our passion to not give up, and we did not give up.”

The shot chart told the story of the game. San Clemente had a 6-1 edge in first-half shots while the Dons held a 5-1 advantage in the second half.

“I’m incredibly proud of them,” Heil said of his players. “To get to where we got to today, is huge. I’m happy for the second (half). If the game ended how the first half was played I’d feel differently. I’m very, very happy about our second half and how it came out.”

The season isn’t over for Santa Barbara. It was invited to play in the CIF Southern Regional this week. The Dons will compete in Division 2 and will learn their draw on Sunday.

“We put in a great performance in the second half,” said Spivey. “We’re keeping our heads up and we’re going to try to win a regional title, which we haven’t done before.”


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