It’s been a long, hard-fought year for the Hart boys soccer team. But in the end, it all paid off.
Heading into the final day of Foothill League play, with a playoff spot secured, the Indians had one more thing to cross off on their list in a road game at Saugus High School on Thursday: Win league outright.
Tied with under a minute to play in regulation, Hart senior Lawrence Luna controlled a pass in Saugus’ 18-yard box. With his back to the goal and Saugus defenders rushing toward him, he passed it back sophomore Ryan Lopez.
“The ball came to me and I said to myself, ‘Shoot it. What can I lose?’’” Lopez said. “It’s the last seconds of the game and I have to take my chances.”
Lopez saw his chance and scored the game-winning goal to give Hart a 2-1 win and its third consecutive Foothill League title.
The Indians (15-2-3 overall, 6-1-3 Foothill League) began the game pressing the Saugus defense, but after the first 20 minutes, the Cents settled down and started to play their game.
Connor Claborn laid down a nice one-timer off a corner kick and Alec Fryer did a good job of managing and building the Saugus attack.
In the 25th minute, Luna crossed a corner kick toward the Saugus penalty box. Senior striker Nicholas Woll jumped and connected with a header to give the Indians a 1-0 lead and Luna his first of two assists in the game.
“It feels good because this was my actual goal, to keep showing the younger ones that are coming up that you have to work,” Luna said. “I’m not going to lie, the older you get, the more you start feeling it. If you work hard, they will work hard with you.”
Saugus (9-6-4, 3-3-4) almost tied things up twice with the first half winding down off of two Alex Nilson opportunities, but Hart goalkeeper Lucas Enriquez came off his line and pounced on both chances before a shot was put on goal.
Trailing 1-0 with 13 minutes left, Saugus defender Mark Beale took a chance and knifed his way through the Indians’ midfield down the left flank. With a heap of Saugus players gathering in Hart’s penalty box, Beale crossed the ball.
As the ball hurled toward him, Nilson calmly created some space and put the cross in the back of the net to tie the game.
“He was the one that created the opportunities that he had with his hard work,” said Saugus head coach Seth Groller. “He was very composed off of the cross from Mark (Beale) from the left side, he made a great run. As a sophomore, there’s a lot of exciting years and plays ahead of him. To get that experience now is pretty great for him.”
Tied at 1-1, in the final 10 minutes of play, both teams hastily tried to get numbers up, but it was Hart that came up with the game-winning goal to clinch the title outright.
“One thing, I can say, is that this team is full of hard-working kids, motivated and self-driven,” said Hart head coach Adonay Jovel. “They want to win and I think that is an asset for us. We never gave up. We believed we could win and we fought to the end. That just narrows everything down.”
Saugus finishes in third place, depending on the game between Valencia and Canyon, and both teams appear to be headed to playoffs. They will find out who they draw in the playoffs on Saturday.
“These are the games that prepare you more for playoffs than any other game, it’s a battle out there,” Groller said. “We have to take the lessons from this defeat and apply them to the playoffs, and I think that will suit us well.”
Golden Valley 2, West Ranch 0
Grizzlies (10-8-2 overall, 4-5-1 Foothill League) Brian Romo scored on a penalty kick in the first half and Juan Mendez scored in the second half off of an assist from Ronny Morales.
West Ranch finishes 4-11-3 and 1-7-2 in league play.
Valencia 2, Canyon 0
The Vikings (7-3-6, 5-1-4) wrap up second place in the Foothill League and the Cowboys (9-11-2, 3-5-2) settle for a fifth-place finish.