BSoc: Owls keep CIF run going, advance to semifinals

Damien Nunez of Laguna Blanca runs down a ball between two Webb defenders during Friday's CIF Division 1 quarterfinal match. Nunez scored two goals and had two assists in a 4-2 win. (Photo courtesy of Paul Chimet)

Damien Nunez of Laguna Blanca runs down a ball between two Webb defenders during Friday’s CIF Division 1 quarterfinal match. Nunez scored two goals and had two assists in a 4-2 win. (Photo courtesy of Paul Chimet)

Laguna Blanca boys soccer coach Daniel Torres planted the seed at the beginning of the season that this team was capable of making a long run in the CIF playoffs.

The Owls advanced to the semifinals of the Division 7 playoffs on Friday with an impressive 4-2 victory over The Webb School at Laguna Blanca.

Senior Damien Nunez scored two goals and had two assists, as the Owls wrote a new chapter in their history-making season. Never before have they gone this far in the playoffs.

You wouldn’t have believed it by the way they played on Friday. The team played together, played composed and showed no signs of playoff jitters before its home crowd. Even when Webb tied the score in the first half, the Owls stayed in control.

“They’ve been performing well all season. I’m very proud of them,” Torres said. “I’ve been talking to them about the road to CIF just because I’ve been there as a coach (CIF Finals in 2011 with Carpinteria). I told them just to leave all the nerves out and to perform and compete. And, to leave everything on the field. That’s the one thing I’ve been asking of them, and to be mentally focused and ready. At this point, that’s the most important thing: to be mentally ready.”

The Owls (14-1-3)  will take a 240-mile one-way trip to West Shores, near the Salton Sea, for the semifinals on Tuesday.

The Owls were on their game from the start Friday. They pressured Webb and forced the goalkeeper to make a big save on a blistering shot from Ryan Bickett in the 9th minute. On the ensuing corner kick, Nunez found Wakelin McNeel at the near post and McNeel scored on a header for a 1-0 lead.

“Ryan has been scoring most of the time, so I figured they knew about Ryan,” Nunez said. “So, I said, ‘What about Wakelin?’ I played him nice and easy and it turned out well.”

Webb (17-3-1)tied it in the 20th minute on a shot by UC Irvine-bound Daniel Crisotomo.

Laguna Blanca kept its composure and regained the lead eight minutes later.

“We said we’re going to keep the momentum; don’t get down, keep playing and we’ll find that goal,” said Nunez.

The senior forward delivered, taking a pass from Cooper Farrell and beating the goalkeeper one on one for a 2-1 advantage in the 32nd minute

Nunez made it 3-1 five minutes later, jumping on a rebound of Bickett blast that was blocked by the goalkeeper.

Asked if he always crashes the goal for rebounds, Nunez replied: Lately, yes. Whatever gets the result.”

“He shows up to play when it counts,” Torres said of Nunez. “I’m very proud of him. I’m very proud of his teammates for getting him in the right spots. Hopefully, we keep going and keeps performing the same way.”

Nunez assisted on the fourth goal. He popped a pass to Connor Curran on the left side of the penalty area and Curran headed into the far corner for a commanding 4-1 lead in the 58th minute.

Webb made it 4-2 in the 67th minute.

The Laguna defense, led by McNeel at center back and Bickett in the midfield, held off Webb the rest of the way.

“The boys worked four years to get here,” said Nunez about reaching the semifinals. “I came here my junior year and we started putting the pieces together. We’ve been playing solidly as a group. We just got to stay focused; there are four halves left (to a CIF title).”

Torres said he talked about having success in the CIF playoffs at the beginning of the season.

“But it’s one of those things you talk about and you get in the kids’ heads, but you never think it can happen,” he said. “If you’re not in Hope Ranch, you don’t really know there is a soccer team playing here twice a week. It’s really fun.

“Santa Barbara is such a rich town when it comes to soccer and it doesn’t surprise me that the kids from Hope Ranch can play. They’ve bought into my ideas and all the credit goes to them.”

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