High intensity, high pressure will be key for Cents in CIF final

By Mason Nesbitt

Last update: Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

In the last several days, a word has popped up in conversations around Saugus High’s campus. How could it not?

The way the Centurion boys soccer team has been winning playoff games, some can’t help but wonder if it’s a matter of destiny.

The theory will be put to the test tonight when Saugus plays Bellflower High in the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 final at Warren High in Downey at 7 p.m.

MORE: British goalie has been stellar for Saugus boys soccer

It’s the Centurions’ first championship appearance in program history, and a win would secure the Santa Clarita Valley’s first-ever CIF title in boys soccer.

“The word destiny has been floated around by a few, including our principal,” said Saugus coach Seth Groller. “Maybe that’s what it is, maybe it’s just that there’s this path that is theirs to follow, and we’re just on that path now, nearing the end of the journey.”

The journey has been exhilarating. Saugus (17-6-4) won both its quarterfinal and seminal games in double overtime, extending Tuesday’s semifinal past regulation only after Tanner Brown connected on a free-kick goal from 49 yards out with less than two minutes to play.

Then James Johnson sent the Cents to tonight’s final by scoring a golden goal.

Overlooked, maybe, is the fact that, after allowing a goal in the first 30 seconds, goalie Matt Sayers and the Saugus defense kept Norwalk off the board for the next 90-plus minutes.

That unit should have its hands full tonight.

Bellflower senior Christian Pinzon has scored 30 goals and assisted on 11 others. Senior Miguel Garcia has scored nine goals and dished out 11 assists.

MORE: Day, location set for Saugus boys soccer’s CIF final

“They work well as a team,” Groller said of Bellflower (16-8-1). “The fact that they were co-champs (of the Suburban League) with Norwalk, another very strong program, and Mayfair (means) they are a strong team. In order to beat them, you have to be at your best.”

And be at your best from the get-go.

The biggest key for Saugus?

“Don’t start out slow,”  Johnson said, “start off at the level we want to play: high intensity, high pressure the whole game.”

As for common opponents, Bellflower lost to Saugus’ semifinal opponent, Norwalk, twice this season. Both by 2-0 scores.

Still, it isn’t something Saugus is reading too much into.

“You can’t underestimate them. You can’t look past them just because of that, because of two games,” said Sayers, who has propelled Saugus to nine shutouts in its last 13 games. “You still have to take every game seriously. It’s a final. They got there same as us. Anything can happen. It’s anybody’s game.”

It’s also a game with an uncanny likeness to the 2015 Division 4 final.

That year, Bellflower beat Hart, the first SCV boys soccer team to ever make a final, 1-0, at Warren High.

“It is interesting that we’re playing the same team Hart played,” Groller said, “but hopefully with a different outcome this time.”

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High intensity, high pressure will be key for Cents in CIF final

Saugus' Jeremy Hindigian (14) slides in to take the ball from Culver City's Sho Gibbs (15) as fellow Centurion Anthony Landeros (24) plays defense during a CIF playoff soccer game at Saugus on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

In the last several days, a word has popped up in conversations around Saugus High’s campus. How could it not?

The way the Centurion boys soccer team has been winning playoff games, some can’t help but wonder if it’s a matter of destiny.

The theory will be put to the test tonight when Saugus plays Bellflower High in the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 final at Warren High in Downey at 7 p.m.

MORE: British goalie has been stellar for Saugus boys soccer

It’s the Centurions’ first championship appearance in program history, and a win would secure the Santa Clarita Valley’s first-ever CIF title in boys soccer.

“The word destiny has been floated around by a few, including our principal,” said Saugus coach Seth Groller. “Maybe that’s what it is, maybe it’s just that there’s this path that is theirs to follow, and we’re just on that path now, nearing the end of the journey.”

The journey has been exhilarating. Saugus (17-6-4) won both its quarterfinal and seminal games in double overtime, extending Tuesday’s semifinal past regulation only after Tanner Brown connected on a free-kick goal from 49 yards out with less than two minutes to play.

Then James Johnson sent the Cents to tonight’s final by scoring a golden goal.

Overlooked, maybe, is the fact that, after allowing a goal in the first 30 seconds, goalie Matt Sayers and the Saugus defense kept Norwalk off the board for the next 90-plus minutes.

That unit should have its hands full tonight.

Bellflower senior Christian Pinzon has scored 30 goals and assisted on 11 others. Senior Miguel Garcia has scored nine goals and dished out 11 assists.

MORE: Day, location set for Saugus boys soccer’s CIF final

“They work well as a team,” Groller said of Bellflower (16-8-1). “The fact that they were co-champs (of the Suburban League) with Norwalk, another very strong program, and Mayfair (means) they are a strong team. In order to beat them, you have to be at your best.”

And be at your best from the get-go.

The biggest key for Saugus?

“Don’t start out slow,”  Johnson said, “start off at the level we want to play: high intensity, high pressure the whole game.”

As for common opponents, Bellflower lost to Saugus’ semifinal opponent, Norwalk, twice this season. Both by 2-0 scores.

Still, it isn’t something Saugus is reading too much into.

“You can’t underestimate them. You can’t look past them just because of that, because of two games,” said Sayers, who has propelled Saugus to nine shutouts in its last 13 games. “You still have to take every game seriously. It’s a final. They got there same as us. Anything can happen. It’s anybody’s game.”

It’s also a game with an uncanny likeness to the 2015 Division 4 final.

That year, Bellflower beat Hart, the first SCV boys soccer team to ever make a final, 1-0, at Warren High.

“It is interesting that we’re playing the same team Hart played,” Groller said, “but hopefully with a different outcome this time.”

Mason Nesbitt

Mason Nesbitt

Mason Nesbitt is The Santa Clarita Valley Signal's Sports Editor.