Golden Valley Grizzlies boys’ soccer snapped a streak that has stood since 2021.
The Grizzlies took down the Hart Indians on Thursday, ending Hart’s 35-game unbeaten streak in Foothill League games.
Golden Valley played with tenacious energy and countered high to Hart’s build-from-the-back style. The game plan forced a handful of Indian errors that led to the Grizzlies’ 3-2 win at home.
Junior Will Flint rocketed in the go-ahead goal after a free kick deflected and bounced his way. The junior forward was ready as always and fired in his 10th goal of the season that gave Golden Valley its first victory over Hart in 13 years.
“Ever since I came to this school, the goal has been to beat Hart and win the Foothill League,” Flint said. “I think we have the chance to do it this year and we finally beat them.”
The Grizzlies appeared to have this game in the bag early as the home team went up 2-0 in the first half. Golden Valley head coach Stephen Evison’s high-press game plan forced two key Hart mistakes, which led to two quick goals.
Senior Alex Risdon fired in the first score of the day after a bad reset from the Hart back line. The Grizzlies stole the ball, leading senior Will Flint to take a rip at the goal. The ball deflected but found Risdon on the left side of the box where he drilled the left-footed shot across his body in the 17th minute.
The goal put Hart in unfamiliar territory as the team trailed for the first time in a league game this season, but Golden Valley wasn’t done yet.
The Grizzlies’ bench made an impact in this game as junior Anthony Padilla and senior Andrew Leyva created the second goal immediately after checking into the game in the 33rd minute. Padilla stole the ball at midfield and pushed it up deep into Indian territory. Hart goalkeeper Marco Gonzalez was again able to save the initial shot but Leyva finished off the ricocheted ball to make it 2-0.
Despite being in their largest deficit of the season, the Indians rallied. Golden Valley was just three minutes away from going into halftime with a two-goal lead before Hart exploded.
The Indians were awarded a penalty kick in the 37th minute after a ton of contact in the box. The Grizzlies’ goalkeeper stood tall and made the diving save on the PK from Messiah Antwi but teammate Marcos Garza was quick to recover the deflected ball and net Hart’s first goal.
Hart tied in stoppage time after another second-chance goal off a set piece. Indians midfielder Diego Rodriguez had his free kick deflected by the Golden Valley wall and was eventually awarded a throw-in. The Grizzlies nearly cleared out what seemed like their hundredth ball of the first half, but Hart’s Eduardo Nunez fired in a low shot to equalize the contest.
“Hart can just kill you in so many different ways,” Evison said. “Their set pieces are their bread and butter. That’s what they want to do so we worked on doing set pieces, too.”
The Indians stole every bit of momentum from Golden Valley as they quickly erased a 2-0 lead heading into halftime. Hart head coach Alex Bernal wasn’t surprised at all to see his team show resilience and jump back into the game.
“Resiliency is something we preach,” Bernal said. “Overall, three mistakes, three goals and that’s how soccer is sometimes. You have one opportunity, you make it, you win and sometimes you’re on the losing end of it. We’ve just got to keep working from here. It hurts but now our character is going to be tested. Do we bounce back or do we fold and let things fall apart? But I believe in the boys that we’re going to come back stronger.”
Both teams came out of the halftime break with high energy as no one would be satisfied with a draw.
Hart dominated possession as always and had plenty of chances to take control of the game. Elisha Himsl, Garza and Antwi all had chances in the second half but were turned away. Himsl made a stellar leaping cross into the box that found Garza but the Grizzlies’ backline forced a deflection.
“That’s one thing that we always ask for, for them not to quit and to play through the final minute, win or lose,” Bernal said. “We have to play with all we have and that’s what we did. The result didn’t go our way and that’s just the way soccer is sometimes. That’s the beauty of it and that’s the ugly of it.”
Antwi then fired a cross to Garza a couple possessions later, but Grizzlies goalkeeper Gelber Sandoval was ready and made a leaping save, firing up the keeper. Sandoval took a beating in between the posts, taking a lot of contact and throwing his body to make stops.
“He’s just a guy who repeatedly, and I mean repeatedly, shows up for you,” Evison said of his goalkeeper. “He will do just unthinkable, unimaginable things to kind of keep you in the game and that’s what he does. We have confidence not only as a coach, but the players have confidence in him. They believe in him and he believes in himself. He’s just a remarkable player.”
The Grizzlies took a lot away from their original 1-0 defeat at Hart, leading Evison to cook up a different game plan heading into Thursday.
“We found out against Hart in the first game that they just want to possess,” Evison said. “They’re very comfortable possessing the ball. They don’t mind waiting you out. So how do you counter that? You need a good defensive structure and you need to have a mindset. I told the boys it’s more than just being physical. More than anything, you just need to have a mindset that we’re not going to have the ball and that’s OK. When we do have the ball, let’s try to keep it as much as we can to kind of get them off their game.”
The Grizzlies endured a relentless attack from the Indians for the final 20 minutes of the game with ball after ball entering the Golden Valley box. Evison praised defender Bradon Arietta and his backline for their defensive performances.
“A lot of that is Brandon Arietta,” Evison said on his team’s dozens of clearouts. “On the defensive side, if they had a set piece play, I told Brandon, ‘I’m putting you in charge. I want you to be the one voice that’s ordering what people do, how we want to be where we want to be.’ And boom, execution is flawless.”
Due to recent injuries, Evison was also forced to call up sophomore Andre Sabella from junior varsity, who played 75 minutes in the historic win over Hart.
Golden Valley began the first round of league play well until hitting a bump in the road with a loss and tie. After the small setback, the Grizzlies feel more than back on track now as they aim for the Foothill League crown. The win may be pivotal in a potential league championship run for Golden Valley, but it could pay dividends to Evison and the program as a whole moving forward.
“Me as a coach, I always just doubt myself as a person,” Evison said. “But this one, I’m gonna take this one to the bank. I’m gonna cash it in and I’m going to enjoy it. I’m gonna celebrate this one and then it’s back to the grind on Monday.”
Both teams return to Foothill League action on Tuesday as Hart hosts Saugus at 3:15 p.m. while Golden Valley heads to Canyon at 5 p.m.