For an idea of what it felt like to play in Friday’s CIF-Southern Section Division 4 playoff opener at Saugus High, take this newspaper, dunk it in a bucket of ice water and place it in front of a fan.
Still, rain-soaked and windswept, Saugus High boys soccer’s desire for the final whistle had less to do with a retreat to the confines of a dry locker room than it did with preserving a late one-goal lead.
Ultimately, the Centurions defense made Collin Infuso’s highlight-worthy goal stand up in a 1-0 win over Highland of Palmdale.
Saugus (14-6-4) will play the winner of Saturday’s Culver City, Lompoc matchup in what it hopes are drier conditions Wednesday.
The site is yet to be determined.
“It was hard to see to the other end of the field,” said Saugus defender Brennen Armendariz, “but it was possible.”
So, too, now is a return to the quarterfinals for the second straight year after having not made that deep a postseason push since 2007. The Centurions will need another win next week to do it.
Friday’s win was all about pressure. Saugus put the heat on Highland early, and the Bulldogs (8-7-4) returned the favor late.
In the wet, cold conditions, the Centurions worked to put as many shots as possible on Highland’s goalkeeper, hoping for a mistake.
Josh De Leon nearly put a header home in the early going, and James Johnson had an open shot from 10-yards out, saved only by stellar goalkeeping.
Then Infuso infused some life into a smattering of faithful Centurion fans.
Tanner Brown found Infuso with a long through ball deep into Highland’s 18-yard box, and Infuso stopped on a dime. He doubled back, cut inside to beat two defenders and fired a shot.
The goal was the only one Saugus needed on a blustery afternoon.
“It was crazy,” Infuso said of the conditions. “The intensity of the game was up so much more. There would be times when it was raining and the wind was blowing so hard I couldn’t see. It was hitting my face and hurting, and I couldn’t open my eyes all the way.”
Saugus wasn’t about to watch Highland snatch a victory in the closing minutes. But that didn’t stop the Bulldogs from attacking and attacking and attacking.
“Every single playoff game we know is going to be a battle,” said Saugus coach Seth Groller, “and Highland, you have to hand it to them, the second half we saw a different team. They were coming at us a lot harder.”
Saugus’ defense was up to the task, though, dropping Highland to its third loss in its last four games.
It was also the Bulldogs’ third loss to a Foothill League team this season. They lost to Valencia and Hart in preleague play.
Saugus finished second place in the Foothill League, behind Valencia, but remained confident it could make another deep postseason run.
Friday was the first step.