A mere 15 minutes separated Saugus from handing Hart its first Foothill League loss of the season while also giving its at-large postseason resume a major boost.
That vision was thwarted four minutes later when the Centurions found themselves in a spot most Foothill League teams have found themselves this year — trailing Hart.
Lawrence Luna punched in the go-ahead goal in the 70th minute as Hart finished off an undefeated Foothill League season with a 4-3 win Thursday afternoon at Saugus. The Indians, who clinched the league title Tuesday, finished league play without a loss for the second time in the last four seasons.
“This game, technically, didn’t matter for our record but for us it really did matter,” said Jaden Nguyen, whose goal tied the score at 3-3 in the 66th minute. “We wanted to go undefeated and it was right there for us. We knew we had time and we just stayed calm.”
Luna followed a deflection from Saugus goalkeeper Matt Sayers and beat him with a left-to-right shot from inside the goalie box for the game-winning shot. Nguyen chipped his goal over Sayers’ head after breaking through Saugus’ back line. Luna also had a first-half goal (32nd minute), which momentarily tied the score at 2-2.
“I thought the first shot before the deflection was going to go in and I was just in the right place for the rebound and finished it,” Luna said of his game-winning goal. ” … We’re all hungry CIF (playoffs) and this is big for our momentum.”
Saugus was up 2-0 by the 17th minute on goals from Tanner Brown and Aidan Sutherland, both unassisted. Joseph Ochoa’s goal put Hart (15-2-2, 9-0-1 Foothill League) on the board before Luna tied things up in the first half.
Jason Hindigian gave Saugus (8-7-7, 2-4-4) a 3-2 lead at the half, with a penalty-kick goal in the 36th minute.
With either a win or loss, Saugus was going to finish fourth league and without an automatic playoff bid. It awaits Monday’s decision on whether it will receive an at-large berth to the postseason. The Cents made it to the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 final last season, which was a program-best playoff run.
“Hart always seems to find its outlet and that was our issue, we couldn’t find our outlet,” said Saugus coach Seth Groller. “We came out and played really well with the two goals but that’s kind of how our season has gone. We’ve only lost one game by more than a goal.”
The Cents put Sayers, who finished with 10 saves, on the attack in the final five minutes of the game but they were unable to put a shot on goal in his one offensive set. Saugus had four shots on goal in the contest.
“Not having the pressure of having to win to go to the playoffs helped us today,” said Hart coach Adonay Jovel. “(Saugus) took it to us early and played really well. Those are the kind of challenges we’re going to see in the playoffs.”
Canyon 2, Valencia 0
Adam Rodriguez scored off an assist from Samuel Zometa in the fifth minute and again on a header in the 78th minute from a Shane Kelley throw in as the Cowboys ended in a tie for second in the Foothill League with West Ranch. Chase Moynihan recorded five saves in the shutout. Valencia finishes its season at 5-9-4, 3-5-2.
West Ranch 1, Golden Valley 0
Danny Paredes scored the game-winning goal for West Ranch, which secured a top-three finish in the Foothill League to receive an automatic playoff bid in CIF-SS Division 4. The Wildcats will be making their first postseason appearance since the 2013-14 season and finished in second place for the first time since the 2012-13 season. Golden Valley finishes its season 3-12-2, 0-8-1.