By Julian Prime
Photos by Jenny Luo, Video coverage by Matt Scholtz
The boys’ soccer team is on its way to CIF Division VI finals on Friday or Saturday, March 6 or 7, after defeating the Sage Hill Lightning 2-0 in Tuesday’s CIF semifinal game. The team will be taking on league adversary Monrovia in the final, which advanced after defeating fellow Rio Hondo league participant La Canada.
“It was a close game,” junior Oskar Hernandez said. “They definitely put up a fight.”
The Lightning possessed the ball for the majority of the opening minutes, but a stout Tiger defense halted any early penetration. Senior Kevin Yonami highlighted this with a great stop after tracking down the opposition. On South Pas’ counterattack, Hernandez set senior Jordan Jackmon up just outside the box, but the Lightning defense got to the ball first. The Tigers looked to follow up on this, but a moot corner kick kept the ball out of Sage Hill’s net. The countering Lightning still couldn’t find much progress on the offensive side of the ball, and the senior South Pas defense held them at bay. Yonami had a chance on goal with a free kick from about 40 yards out, but the keeper was there to stop it. This wouldn’t deter the Tigers’ offense, however, as they continued an aggressive onslaught consisting of pinpoint passing and powerful shooting. Despite this, the elusive first goal was nowhere to be found.
With about 31 minutes left, the Lightning took a shot on goal, but senior goalie Sam Hoadley-Brill made a great save to keep the game scoreless. Senior Ramon Gutierrez then led the Tigers back on offense. He took a shot from just outside the box which missed left. Gutierrez continued to facilitate the South Pas offense when he crossed the ball into junior James Tulin, who managed to get the ball back to Gutierrez for another shot on goal. The Sage Hill keeper denied Gutierrez of breaking open the game, however, and the Tigers had missed yet another opportunity. Hernandez came flying back into the box soon after, and collided with a Lightning defender while dribbling towards the goal. After they both hit the ground, Hernandez got up after briefly writhing in pain on the ground. The Sage Hill defender, however, would need to be helped off the field before play could resume.
“We controlled the game from the start and should’ve scored more goals in my opinion,” Jackmon said. “We definitely weren’t at our best but we got the job done.”
The injury took an obvious toll on Sage Hill’s defensive play, as the Tigers’ offense had multiple chances, one after another. After a volley of shots were denied by the Lightning keeper, Hernandez fed a through ball to Jackmon deep in the box. The goalie just beat out Jackmon to the ball and fell on top of it, foiling the Tigers’ attempt. With about 12 minutes left, Hoadley-Brill was thrown into a tricky situation when a Lightning striker broke through the Tiger defense and had a breakaway opportunity. Hoadley-Brill came flying in towards the oncoming opponent, and launched his legs out at the ball. This worked perfectly for the Tigers, as Hoadley-Brill cleared the ball out far away from the goal, giving his defenders time to fall back and help out. Another injury struck for the Lightning when senior speedster Sam Anuakpado and the Sage Hill goalie met. Anuakpado was fine, but the keeper needed some time to recover. He would stay in the game.
Soon after, junior James Anderson was put up to the task of stopping a Lightning counter attack. Anderson used his big frame to box out his smaller opponent, and set up a goal kick for the Tigers. The goal kick fed the ball to Hernandez, who broke through the Lightning defense and shot a line drive straight into the back of the net to open the game up offensively. Almost immediately after the goal, the Tigers were looking to pile on. Senior Justin Fernandez showed off some impressive footwork with two great fake outs, setting the Tigers up for more success on offense. Gutierrez ended up with the ball in his possession, and set Jackmon up again with a through ball. The lightning fast Sage Hill defense closed in too quickly for Jackmon to reach the ball and take a strong shot. As soon as the Lightning regained possession, senior Timmy Wong came flying in with his leg in the air in an attempt to make a play on the ball, and ended up trucking the opposing player, sending him to the ground. He would walk off with help after a few minutes on the ground. Wong then set up for the ensuing free kick, but it was blocked by the keeper. The half soon ended with the Tigers leading 1-0.
The Tigers weren’t as aggressive to begin the second half as they were at the end of the first, but still possessed the ball for the majority of the time. An Anuakpado breakaway was halted by the Sage Hill goalie, but the Tigers weren’t done there. Gutierrez took a shot but missed after a Jackmon setup. Fernandez crossed the ball in, which almost went in the goal, but the keeper made a nice one handed catch. When the Lightning came back on the counter, Wong promptly stopped them. Also while on the defensive front, Jackmon came bull rushing in to defend a Sage Hill player, and ended up running him over, which prompted a yellow card from the referee. The Lightning answered with a set of dime passes to carry the ball deep into South Pas territory, but it was stopped again. With about 19 minutes to go, the Lightning were on the attack. Despite a barrage of shots from Sage Hill, the ball never once reached Hoadley-Brill, as it was being blocked by Tiger defenders who bordered the box. The Lightning took a step back to readjust their strategy, and managed to carry the ball around the South Pas defense. Hoadley-Brill was there, however, and made another stupendous save on a point blank shot. The Tigers moved the ball back to the familiar territory of the Lightning, but continued to struggle to find the back of the net.
“After halftime, we were hoping to get an early goal and seal the lead quickly, but clearly the other team had something else in mind,” Hernandez said.
With about seven minutes left, the Tigers were getting closer and closer to doubling their lead. South Pas was doing a great job of recovering from Sage Hill’s counter attacks, and showed impressive poise while carrying the ball up the field. Anuakpado made a couple of nice moves to get the ball into the box, and set Jackmon up for a chance on goal, which barely missed to the right.
Then, from about midfield, Gutierrez had a beautiful boot to set up Jackmon. Jackmon’s speed gave him a huge advantage, as he outran the Lightning defender easily, and squeezed the ball through the incoming goalie’s legs for the dagger. Now 2-0, both teams were visibly overcome with emotions, although they differed greatly. Noticeably angry over the recent events, a Sage Hill defender was given a red card for pushing Gutierrez over on the Tigers’ ensuing attack. South Pas had a chance to make it 3-0 in stoppage time, but couldn’t quite net the goal. Time ran out and the home crowd went wild as the Tigers punched their ticket to CIF finals.
All in all, the game was a great defensive showing from the Tigers, especially from the seniors Wong, Yonami, and Oscar Jaime III, and sophomore Mathew Kramsch.
“Our defensive midfield was solid today,” Hernandez said. “It’s the best game I’ve ever seen from [Kramsch] and that helped us keep most of the possession.”
The Tigers will look to continue this in their upcoming CIF final against Monrovia.
“We just want to prepare each day in practice and train hard,” Jackmon said. “When the final comes, we want to leave everything on the field. We have worked hard all season and we have one game left to get the ring.”