Hart boys soccer exits CIF State playoffs in semis

Hart's Jesus Alfonso (14) steals the ball from Clark Cooper (5) of Santiago at Hart on Thursday, March 5, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal
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Entering the Hart boys soccer team CIF State Division III semifinal matchup with Corona-Santiago at Hart High School on Thursday, the Indians had never given up more than three goals in regulation.

That all changed with a 4-0 loss in regulation to the Sharks to conclude the state and postseason run for the Indians. 

Hart gave up three goals in regulation twice against Dos Pueblos and in the first game against Valencia. In the match prior, the Indians gave up four goals in an overtime loss to North Torrance. 

“What can I say? The team was organized and you have to give them credit,” said Hart head coach Adonay Jovel. “They put four away and no team has put four away against us. They deserve to get to the next round.”

Four different Santiago players ended the game with a goal. Omar Lemus, Andrew Valerio, Dominik Borucki and Gavin Ramirez each contributed in the Sharks’ victory.

Hart (18-4-3 overall) came out of the gates energized after almost a week and a half break and almost netted a goal in the opening minutes off of a Cameron Castaneda free-kick directed toward the back post of Santiago’s goal where Jesus Alfonzo’s attempt went just wide.

Working on the left flank for most of the first half, Santiago’s Connor Lynch, Noah Alexander and Saul Serpas continuously put pressure on Hart’s backline, but were not able to find the goal.

Hart goalkeeper, Lucas Enriquez, played his part in the first-half shutout, stopping shots in the 11th and 21st minute by Valerio and Lemus, respectively. 

After Lawrence Luna was subbed on with 15 minutes left in the first half, the Hart attack ramped up its activity. Luna’s cross to a leaping Alfonzo was on target, but Alfonzo couldn’t make contact with the pass and went out of bounds.

Beginning the second half tied 0-0, Luna continued to pressure Santiago (17-4-5). In the 44th minute of play, Luna took a shot from about 20 yards out. The ball rolled up the Sharks’ goalkeeper’s chest, hit the crossbar, appeared to bounce and cross the goal line and safely back into the goalie’s hands. The score stayed level at 0-0.

Hart’s Lawrence Luna (6) grimaces as his shot on goal was ruled a “no-goal” in the second half against Santiago at Hart on Thursday.

The Sharks made some defensive adjustments and the tables turned six minutes later as Hart made a defensive mistake that proved costly. Trying to clear the ball out of their defensive third, there was some miscommunication between Hart defenders that allowed Lemus to get to the ball first and give Santiago a 1-0 lead.

“We were a little slow to press and we made some adjustments defensively where our center back was pinching up to fill in the gap because that’s where they were hurting us, was in the gap between the defense and the midfield,” said Santiago head coach Henry Sierra. “Once we started doing that, we had more chances of winning the ball and then kind of moving forward.”

With the lead, Santiago started to control the possession and it paid off when Valerio scored in the 61st minute off of another Hart mistake to make it a two-goal lead for the visitors. Borucki scored on a header in the 68th minute and Ramirez scored the game’s final goal with under two minutes left in the contest.

“I think the first mistake was crucial,” Jovel said. “The one that hit the post, I thought it was key, and it doesn’t go in. Trying to clear the ball and it goes to their forward and we had two of those today. It doesn’t happen to us very often, but it happened today. There’s nothing to say. It could have happened even earlier, but it happened in this game.”

The Indians end their state playoff run in the semifinals, their second semifinal loss of the season after a CIF-Southern Section exit the game prior, but return the majority of the 2019-20 team and according to Jovel will work on the mental aspect of the game in the off-season.

“At the end of the day it comes down to, it’s a mentality and an attitude, Jovel said. “Building the guys from June, talking to them psychologically, getting them to believe that they can make a big run when the game is on is key. 

“It’s all the physiological part of the game that we need to work on. It’s not the talent or the technical aspect, that’s part of the game, but it’s all in here, the mind. The mindset, we have to get better.”

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