BSoc: Gamboa’s first goal lifts No. 9 Dons over No. 3 Ventura

It?s only the second week of January, but the way Santa Barbara High and Ventura went at each other in boys soccer you would have thought it was a playoff game. The intensity was that high on the muddy pitch at Peabody Stadium for Tuesday?s Channel League opener.

In a battle between two CIF Division 1 top-10 teams, the No. 9 Dons gained a measure of revenge, beating the third-ranked Cougars 2-1 on Peter Gamboa?s header in the 74th minute. Ventura defeated the Dons last year at Peabody to win the league title.

Gamboa?s goal came off a corner kick from Alec Larson. He crashed the back post and beautifully nodded the ball down and into the net, past goalkeeper Erick Kam.

Ventura's Nick Chavira and a Santa Barbara defender battle for the ball during Tuesday night's Channel League opener at Peabody Stadium.

Ventura’s Nick Chavira and a Santa Barbara defender battle for the ball during Tuesday night’s Channel League opener at Peabody Stadium.

?I?m speechless right now,? said Gamboa when asked to talk about the goal, his first of the season. ?I?ve been trying to score since the season started and I haven?t been able to score. My teammates have been telling me, ?Keep your head up, keep your head up, you?re going to score in the most important game.? I guess this is the most important game for us.?

Santa Barbara coach Todd Heil was happy to see Gamboa finally get rewarded for his effort.

?You?d expect to him to have a couple more (goals), especially on set pieces with his ability to get up and ability to hammer it home,? Heil said. ?I can guarantee you it?s one he?s always going to remember. So, if that was his first one, that?s one to get right there.?

Gamboa said it was important for the Dons to come out on top against what has become their biggest league rival.

?They?re ranked higher than us and they beat us here last year, and we couldn?t let that happen again,? he said.

Ventura won 2-1 at Santa Barbara last season.

Said Heil: ?We flipped it on them this year. We got our own little revenge.?

It didn?t look good for Santa Barbara in the first half, as Ventura (14-2-1, 0-1) dominated play and made several runs at the Dons goal.

?Give a lot of credit to Ventura,? Heil said. ?They are very talented and the guys they return are experienced. No. 9, JJ (Leon), and No. 17 Joe Hernandez, they?re quality players, they?re dangerous.?

Santa Barbara (14-3-1, 1-0) managed to hold off the Cougars and went into halftime even at 0-0.

The Dons broke the scoreless draw in the 58th minute. Jumoke Hutton hit a high free kick to the top of the 18-yard box and Ventura?s Kam came off his line to catch the ball. He bumped into Santa Barbara forward Leo Adame and the ball fell to the ground. Landon Mullen stepped up and calmly hit a left-footed shot into the open net for a 1-0 lead.

?Landon was there to take a chance and he took a chance and it went in,? said Heil.

A charged-up Ventura scored the equalizer seven minutes later. Hernandez took the ball deep into the attacking third and crossed it on the ground. The ball deflected out to a late arriving Alex Cervantes and he buried a low, hard shot past Santa Barbara goalkeeper Elvis Mancilla.

?I felt we outplayed them in first half and there was a part in the middle of the second half where I thought we stepped it up and put the equalizer in,? said Ventura coach Todd Tackett.

The Cougars attack again from the right side, with Hernandez crossing the ball into the 6-yard box. Mancilla got one hand on it before corralling it with Leon right on the door step.

Santa Barbara then went on the offensive and forced the Cougars to clear a ball over the end line. That set up the corner kick Gamboa would put away for the game winner.

?I felt like in the second half we gained a little more confidence and understood we could play with them,? Heil said of his team. ?They?re ranked higher than us and sometimes when you come out to the game you get a little starstruck, you get a little nervous. I think once we settled down after the first 40 minutes ? and let?s be honest, we did dodge a bullet or two in the first half ? that led us to be a little more confident, that we can take chances, that we can take risks and we can get forward.

?I told the guys in the locker room, ?You got to get forward and you got to create your own chances.? We did a better job in the second half getting in the attacking third.?

Said Tackett of the Dons: ?They fought hard the last four minutes of the game and put that corner kick away. They got to the ball before we did and it was great effort on their side, and it helped them win the match.?