Dons fall to Ventura, finish in third place

There were three scenarios facing the Santa Barbara High boys soccer team when it took the field at Peabody Stadium against Ventura in the Channel League finale on Thursday.

1, The Dons would be the outright league champions with a victory.
2, The Dons would share the title with San Marcos if the match ended in a draw.
3, The Dons would drop to third place if they lost.

Santa Barbara finished in the third scenario, as Ventura rallied from 1-0 down in the second half by scoring two goals in a three-minute span to beat the Dons 2-1 and capture its second straight Channel League championship.

“I have the utmost respect for Santa Barbara,” Ventura coach Todd Tackett said. “I wrote down every league championship they had won on our board on Monday and I told the guys on our team, ‘This is what you’re up against. You’re up against tradition, you’re up against a respectful school that knows the game of soccer, loves the game of soccer. It’s going to require you guys to play up and beyond this week.”

The Cougars did, moving the ball effectively, taking advantage of opportunities and playing solid in the back.

“We came out and we executed what we practiced,” said Tackett. “We came today and our only mindset was to win.”

J.J. Leon scored on a brilliant strike from 25 yards to tie the score in the 60th minute and Spencer Kozik tallied the game-winner three minutes later for Ventura, which finished the regular season undefeated at 20-0-6, 5-0-3 (18 points) in league play.

San Marcos finished second with 17 points (5-1-2) and Santa Barbara was third with 16 points (5-2-1).

After surviving a couple of dangerous chances by the Cougars in the first half, the Dons suffered a blow when leading goal scorer Alfredo Ibarra suffered a gash in the back of his head and had to leave the game midway through the half.

Santa Barbara (15-6-4) managed to stave off two more Ventura chances and went into halftime deadlocked at 0-0.

Ventura got the first good scoring chance of the second half with a free kick at the top of the penalty area in the 42nd minute. Joe Hernandez hammered a low ball through the wall but Santa Barbara goalkeeper Elvis Mancilla saw it and blocked the shot with his body.

The Dons responded two minutes later by earning a corner kick. Alec Larson’s set piece was cleared, but Jorge Guerrero chased it down and lifted the ball back into the box. In a scramble, Alberto Hernandez knocked the ball toward the goal and Ibarra guided it in with his body for a 1-0 lead.

Ibarra played the second half with a swim cap to protect his bandaged head wound.

“I’ve never seen anybody score a soccer goal in a swim cap, so that was first tonight, said Santa Barbara coach Todd Heil.

Ventura scored the equalizer after Santa Barbara’s right back received a yellow card and had to be subbed out.

With space to work with, Leon got the ball on the wing, faked right and ripped a screaming left-footed blast into the far-side netting of the goal from 25 yards.

“The guy hit a nice shot to tie it up,” Heil said. “We had a yellow card which caused us to make a change. It’s hard to expect a kid to come off the bench and be able to make a play on that. He’s not warmed up and not ready to go. Unfortunately, he was put in a tough situation and the guy made a tough shot.”

The Cougars scored the game-winner on a counter attack. Leon fed the ball to a wide-open Kacik at the top of the box and he beat Mancilla at the near post.

“We got caught with Jelan up high and we didn’t rotate over and, unfortunately, we let (Kacik) sneak behind. It was a smart counterattack on their part and they finished the shot,” said Heil.

Tackett said he moved Kacik up front to go for the win. “He’s one of our toughest players, and I knew with him up there he would win some balls.”

“That’s to be expected,” Heil said. “As soon as we scored, they had to push somebody up. We knew it would be somebody from the back, one of their taller kids.”

Despite having to watch the Cougars celebrate on their field, Heil reminded his players they were still going to the playoffs.

“What the boys needed to understand was no matter where they finished tonight, it’s not over,” Heil said of the season. “You can’t celebrate too much if you win, you can’t get too excited if you clinch second, and you can’t bury your head if you get third because if you do your season will be over before you know it. And, our season is not over. We still have playoffs to go.”