Hart boys soccer comeback halted by North Torrance in CIF-SS semis

Dan Watson/The Signal
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TORRANCE –– Fighting their way back in the previous two playoff games, the Hart boys soccer team found themselves in a familiar situation on Saturday, trailing on three different occasions in a CIF-Southern Section Division 3 semifinal game against North Torrance at North Torrance High School. 

Tying the game in the 14th, 60th and 73rd minutes of regulation, the Indians forced overtime for the third consecutive game. But this time, the Indians would be on the wrong side of a 4-3 decision in the Saxons’ favor.

“I think the guys performed very well,” said Hart head coach Adonay Jovel. “We came back every time we were down. They worked hard and I’m proud of the effort and focus that they had the entire game.”

Hart midfielder Joseph Ochoa, who is still nursing a nagging injury, had a hand in each of the Indians’ goals. Ochoa finished with two assists, one to Nicholas Woll and the other to Edilson Ramirez, and a goal in regulation.

But North began the overtime period aggressive and about halfway through the period, Ritchie Londono scored on a free-kick from about 30 yards out to seal the overtime victory.

After North’s Tilar Gill went down inside the Indians’ penalty box in the ninth minute of play, Andrew Valverde took the penalty kick and gave the home team a 1-0 lead.

Ochoa and the Indians (18-3-3 overall) answered with an assist off a corner kick as Woll found some space on the near post and headed the game-tying goal.

North (22-3) actively sought a way to chip the ball over the top of the Hart backline to Gill, but Indians defender Christian Aguilar stood strong.

“He struggled a little with him in the opening minutes, but he was more patient in the second half and he didn’t get through,” Jovel said of Aguilar’s play. “He also has been dealing with some injuries.”

With under 15 minutes left in the first half, North took advantage of Indians mishap. A low rolling cross bypassed two or three Indians defenders for Valverde’s second goal of the half and the Saxons held a 2-1 lead heading into the half.

Hart senior Lawrence Luna came off the bench for the Indians in the first half, but made himself known to start the second period. Two minutes into the half, Luna took on a defender and took a shot on goal.

North almost went up two goals with a free kick opportunity by Michael McKibbin from about 40 yards out and another long-range strike by Brandon Lee from 30 yards away, but came up empty on both attempts.

Ochoa started the second half on the bench, but entered halfway through the period and leveled the game at 2-2 with a one-timer in the 60th minute off a deflection.

“He’s still a little unfit, but when he steps on the field, he makes an instant impact,” Jovel said. “If he was fitter, I think it would have been a better asset for the group.”

With under 15 minutes remaining in regulation, North regained the lead for the second time off a throw-in into the middle of the Indians penalty box. The ball took a high bounce and landed at the feet of McKibbins, who put away the goal.

Down, but not out, Hart regained its composure and pushed forward. 

Tying the game for the third time in regulation, Ochoa crossed a corner kick into the box. The initial ball was saved by North’s goalkeeper, but mishandled the ball. It took a couple bounces and Hart defender Edilson Ramirez rocketed the final goal of regulation.

““Every game we have given it all we have,” Ochoa said about the comeback. “The whole team collectively wants to win. Before every game we say a prayer as a team and ask God for his blessing, confidence and strength.”

North advances to the CIF-SS Division 3 title game and will play the winner of Redlands East Valley / Santiago on Saturday.

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