By Justin Vigil-Zuniga
Signal Sports Writer
The Foothill League champion Hart Indians (9-2-5) have been eliminated from the CIF Southern Section Division 2 playoffs after an overtime nailbiter with the San Juan Hills Stallions (9-2-6).
The game could not be decided in regular or extra time, setting the stage for a postseason penalty kick shootout on a windy and rainy day at Hart. The Indians forced a second set of penalty kicks but the Indians were officially out on a miss by Jonas Cruz.
Cruz was crushed after the miss but his teammates were quick to embrace the junior.
Hart controlled the ball nearly the entire game and yet never led. The Indians had an incredible first five minutes of action, through dominating possession and getting three shots off. It wouldn’t be enough for a goal, but Hart looked sharp early.
The game eventually shaped into a steady back and forth where San Juan Hills would capitalize first.
Senior Roman Roel would score for the Stallions on a bomb from midfield with nine minutes left in the first half.
“Even when we were down one,” said Hart head coach Gio Salinas, “I told the boys, ‘We are right here. We are going to continue to play the way we’re playing.’”
San Juan Hills kept the pressure on throughout the remainder of the half but Hart managed to keep the gap at one goal.
The Indians came out hot again, jumping on every ball on both sides of the field.
Hart’s Hunter Rickard and Hunter Phelps were everywhere offensively but only Rickard could register a goal.
Rickard headed in the equalizer with 14 minutes left in the second half.
“I had a header and I thought I scored,” said Rickard. “The goalie saved it but it spilled out and I just kept going and tapped it in.”
The Indians had countless balls just missed or saved by an impressive Stallion goalkeeper in Anthony Majorino.
But even with Hart in control most of the game, every minute of regulation and overtime would not see a victor. Thus, the game would be decided by penalties.
The Indians had their backs against the wall, down 4-3 in the first shootout. But the team got a stop and forced a second round of penalties where they’d officially lose.
Hart has only lost one game all year dating back to Dec. 27. San Juan Hills’ unbeaten streak now also hits 10 with the win over the Indians.
Hart will look to defend its Foothill league crown next season, a title that has been theirs now three years in a row. The team will be filled with returners as Hart looks go for four league championships in a row. However, the loss at hand still stings.
“We had a good team,” said Salinas. “It was by far one of the best teams I have ever coached. We had a lot of talented individuals that brought a lot to the team. I’m not sad, I’m happy for the boys, they’ve shown their character. Some of them represented the school for four years, they gave it all. I’m really proud of them for giving everything they had.”