It wasn’t the result that either side had been hoping for, but both Saugus and Hart boys’ soccer came out of Thursday’s 2-2 draw at Saugus High School feeling like something was accomplished.
Hart (14-1-1, 7-0-1) had been looking to take care of three of the four points needed to secure a fourth straight Foothill League with a win, but getting a point now means that the Indians just need to win one of their remaining four games — or three draws and a loss.
Of greater note is that Hart had its 13-match winning streak snapped. The Indians lost their second match of the season at Burbank, 2-1, on Nov. 17 before putting together a stretch that Hart head coach Gio Salinas thinks could be “one of the best in the program’s history.”
“That’s just a reflection of how this team is,” Salinas said. “This team is more than just a team; it’s like a family. They really work hard at games. They really work hard at our practices, and we get along even outside of the sport. The 13-game winning streak comes to an end, but honestly, I don’t feel like it’s the end of the world.”
Saugus (4-7-3, 4-3-2), meanwhile, was seeking to stay in second place, and head coach Seth Groller was proud to watch his team go toe-to-toe against the unbeaten Foothill League leaders. The Centurions had entered the second stretch of this season after the holiday break with a win over Valencia before falling to West Ranch earlier in the week, and now are tied on points with Valencia after the Vikings’ 3-1 win over West Ranch on Thursday.
“Coming off of that, you want to see how your team responds, and I was just happy with how we played,” Groller said. “Obviously, Hart’s a very good team. You look at the record, you look at their players, the skill, how they attack offensively and the players they have, they can just finish for them. So, the fact that we were right in there, responded, every time they scored, we scored as well.”
Hart senior Trenton Rickard scored two goals in the first half, and Saugus junior Greyson Griffiths responded to each goal, once in each half, for his first two goals of the season.
Griffiths had been struggling to stay fully healthy for most of the season, and he told Groller that he was ready to go for Thursday’s matchup against the leaders of the Foothill League.
“It’s kind of been a little bit since I scored, just coming back from injuries and stuff,” Griffiths said. “Still a little injured, but I’m really hoping that this keeps going, and then the next games, I can keep scoring.”
Rickard opened up the scoring less than seven minutes into the game, latching onto a lofted ball from Hart junior Samahj Oyewo out of the center back spot. Rickard gauged the pass perfectly, letting it bounce past the Saugus back line before firing it into the net.
“[Oyewo] does that very often,” Salinas said. “Our first play is sending that ball through, a long ball for Trent, because that’s when the opponent is less likely to be aware, play the ball behind them, and there you go.”
Griffiths responded with eight minutes to go in the first half, running down the left flank after a pass from Saugus junior Andrew Alfaro. Rickard put Hart back in front just over four minutes later, finding space in the box to head home Hart sophomore Diego Rodriguez’s corner kick.
Saugus was able to keep the Indians off the board for the entirety of the second half, and the Centurions got the goal they needed through Griffiths just under nine minutes into the half. He burst down the left flank in a similar fashion to the first, though this time it was senior Gage Fritz sending him in, before he blasted the ball into the roof of the net.
Griffiths was happy to be back in the lineup and scoring goals, though getting a result against Hart was the bigger goal. The Centurions were pressing from the start, not allowing the Indians to move the ball the way they normally do, something the Centurions had been hoping to achieve.
“We were having our center mids stay back a little bit more but definitely staying on the offensive to not let them build out of the back,” Griffiths said, “because a lot of teams like those, they are building out the back, and that’s where they get their strength. So, if you can cut that off, they tend to struggle to actually build up and get those goals.”
Hart nearly scored on a few occasions, but Saugus freshman goalkeeper Ethan Murillo was there to put a stop to those chances. He made 10 saves in the draw, and after conceding the early goal, he said things started to get a little bit easier.
“At the start, I was really nervous,” Murillo said, “and then I got used to it and started playing and eventually got used to it.”
Murillo had to deal with a couple of new pieces to the Saugus defense with seniors Dylan Silva and Rio Loya both missing from the squad on Thursday. Silva was suspended for the game due to a red card picked up against Canyon on Jan. 10 while Loya was out due to injury. In their places were juniors Agustin Aguero and Cooper Luckenbach.
“It was awesome to see those other players stepping up to do what they had to do to get this result,” Groller said.
Saugus will now look forward to an away matchup at Golden Valley (7-6-5, 2-4-3) on Tuesday at 3:15 p.m.
Hart returns home on Tuesday to face Castaic at 3:15 p.m., where the Indians will look to secure the league title.
“It’s just a matter of time, but we’ve got to take it game by game,” Salinas said. “You never know. Castaic, they’ve been picking it up lately, and then we’ve got West Ranch. West Ranch surprised Saugus by beating them. It’s anyone’s game. This league is competitive, so we’ll see.”