MONTEBELLO –– True to the style of play and the attitude that they began and finished all of the previous 22 games with this season, the Hart boys soccer team never gave in and endured until the final whistle against Montebello on Friday.
Trailing the Oilers in a CIF-Southern Section Division 3 second-round match at Montebello High School, the Indians came back to tie the game within under five minutes left in regulation, pushed through the two overtime sessions and won on PKs, 4-3 after tying 1-1 at the end of regulation and overtime.
“The whole year it’s been the same. They believed they could win the game even to the last minute,” said Hart head coach Adonay Jovel. “That’s how we have been performing the whole year. If teams don’t give us that little credit, they are going to pay and today they paid for it.”
Hart’s Nicholas Woll tied the game at 1-1 with about four minutes left in regulation, then goalie Lucas Enriquez came up with two big PK saves to advance the Indians to the quarterfinals.
Things didn’t start out so peachy for Hart (18-2-3 overall) as Montebello appeared to want to impose their will early with sound midfield and forward play by Jose Gonzalez, Chris Amador and Edgar Lopez. The three wreaked havoc on the left flank.
“We struggled big time,” Jovel said. “You have to give us credit though because even though we struggled they never scored a goal (in the first half). I’m proud of those guys. They defended well. Not our best first half, but we got better in the second and we got the win at the end of the day.”
Johnny Rios, Christian Aguilar, Edilson Ramirez and Cameron Castaneda were quick on their feet and did a solid job of containing the sound Oilers attack.
“(They were) key players because they did a good job of clearing the balls out of the back, and they did a good job of covering and pressing today,” Jovel said. “They did a great job.”
Montebello (17-5-5) was very skilled offensively as they pushed eight players up to help the attack throughout the game leaving just two defenders on the backline, but Hart couldn’t penetrate or get clean shots on goal.
Hart striker Lawrence Luna began the game on the bench, but entered halfway through the first half and injected some life into the Indians’ attack with Joseph Ochoa, Woll and Nathaniel Bello.
Nine minutes into the second half, Montebello took the lead as Edgar Alegria’s shot was blocked, but the rebound landed in front of Gonzalez to give the home team a 1-0 lead.
Visibly upset by the goal, the Indians reloaded and ramped up their attack. Luna became more aggressive and deliberate with his movements on the left flank, Woll kept making suns behind the backline, getting aerial whenever he had the chance, Bello and Ryan Lopez providing support.
A Woll header hit the crossbar in the 56th minute, a cross from Luna was flew past a diving Woll and Bello as he slid into the goal nine minutes later and still the Indians couldn’t capitalize.
With under five minutes to go in the game, Luna rushed to throw in a pass in Montebello territory. He hurled the ball towards the goal and into the penalty box, it took a bounce over an Oilers defender and dropped in front of Woll for the game-tying goal.
“The team is the team, I think we played well, but Lawrence is a big player and he makes a difference,” Jovel said. “When he came in, we started attacking on his side a little more. I wouldn’t say we don’t miss him because we do, but the team responded well without him. When he came in we looked even better.”
The final regulation whistle blew and the teams headed into overtime. Determined to not have the game go to PKs, both teams left it all out on the field, but couldn’t break through.
Montebello’s Amador stepped up to shoot first, but his low-roller down the middle was stopped by Enriquez. Hart’s Sebastian Ramirez, Ochoa, Luna and Rios netted their attempts.
Maximo Dominguez, Alegria and Luis Estrada scored their penalty kicks for Montebello, setting up a win-or-go-home PK for Vincent Mendez on the Oilers’ fifth attempt.
Feeling confident with already one PK save in his pocket, Enriquez assessed the situation and went to work.
“I looked at the guy, he didn’t want to take it,” Enriquez said of the game-sealing save. “I knew where he was going and I just waited and dove to my left and stopped the ball.”
Hart advances to the Division 3 quarterfinals and will play Norwalk at 3 p.m. at Hart High School on Tuesday.