Saugus boys soccer comes up short in first round of playoffs

The Saugus boys soccer team gathers under the lights at Santa Paula High School for the start of the Division 4 playoffs. // Photo courtesy Saugus Athletics

Saugus boys soccer traveled to Santa Paula High School for the first round of the 2020 CIF-Southern Section boys soccer Division 4 playoffs and returned to Saugus after a deflating 1-0 loss Wednesday night.

“It was a great game between two teams, both giving 100%,” said Saugus head coach Seth Groller via text message. “The atmosphere and intensity were exactly how a playoff game should be, but unfortunately we weren’t able to come away with the win.”

Both teams pitted against each other in a relentless battle in the first half which ultimately ended in a stalemate with nothing but zeros across the board. Braden Salazar, Alec Fryer, Connor Claborn and Rieghly Burke were all attempting to create opportunities for their offense.

“We played very well in the first half creating chances but were just not able to put the ball in the back of the net,” Groller said.

Salazar proved to be a huge asset to the Centurions (9-7-4 overall) on Wednesday night. He made an impact on both sides of the ball and led a stout defense. Marke Beale, Johnny Kleinfeld and Roger Sandino were other keys to that defense that allowed the Cardinals few chances at goal.

“I think our defense stepped up knowing John Garcia was not starting,” Groller said in a phone interview. “For the opportunities they did have, Derek (Diaz) did a good job getting stops.”

Diaz played goalkeeper for the Centurions when Garcia was out for the match due to a finger injury. He jammed it during warmups which caused complications when he attempted to continue playing in goal.

In any other circumstance a finger injury would be no big deal. Since Garcia was Saugus’ starting goalkeeper, an injury like that can greatly affect his play with the amount of time goalkeepers spend handling the ball.

“He had a lot of pain, so he wasn’t able to play,” Groller said. “He couldn’t really bend his finger to hold onto the ball.”

With a minimal number of minutes under his belt, Diaz did one of the most heroic things he could do for his coach and his teammates and stepped into the goal. He even nearly recorded a clean sheet in one of the biggest moments of his soccer career to date.

“He was awesome,” Groller said. “We felt very comfortable with Derek. He did great for us and was holding on to a lot of hard shots for us.”

Unfortunately for the Centurions, disaster struck, and the stalemate broke with just 15 minutes remaining. The Cardinals (13-4-6) intercepted a pass as the Centurions were transitioning upfield. One quick pass to an open man leading to a rocket that squeaked by Diaz.

“There was not much Derek, or any keeper, could have done,” Groller said.

After the goal, there was a brief moment where the Centurions hung their heads, but strong leadership nipped that in the bud before it could manifest. Garcia attempted to rally his team from the bench, encouraging them to give it everything they had for the last 15 minutes.

“We never quit, and we never gave up,” Groller said. “There was never a moment where I felt anyone was giving anything less than 100%. It’s not like there was a lull after the goal, rather there was a sense of urgency.”

Saugus fought back, but the Cardinals were able to hang on long enough to come away with the win.

“Santa Paula, I definitely got to give them credit. They’re a great team as well with very skilled and talented players. I foresee them doing great things in the playoffs,” Groller said.

The Centurions head home with heavy hearts, but in a hard-fought season where almost every game came down to the wire, there is still much to hang their hat on, including a tenacious fight to stay alive in the playoffs.

“We had a couple good opportunities because of our work ethic and never giving up, Groller said. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to put any of those in the back of the net. At the end of the day I’m still proud of the team.”

Oxnard 2, Valencia 1

The Vikings (6-4-6) traveled to Oxnard High School for the first round of the 2020 CIF-Southern Section boys soccer Division 3 playoffs and had their season ended by the Yellowjackets (14-3-5).

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