Two first-half goals in two minutes powered Saugus Centurions boys’ soccer to an improbable victory over the Golden Valley Grizzlies.
The Centurions defended their home field on senior night with two soon-to-be Saugus alumni firing in goals in what could be their final home game.
Saugus needed a win just to stay in the mix of the narrowing Foothill League standings and now is alive in the playoff mix after its 2-0 win.
The Centurions (3-6-5, 3-4-4) came out with a ton of energy and possession. Golden Valley was still getting shots on goal early, but Saugus stunned the Grizzlies with quick strikes in the 16th and 18th minutes.
Center back Cooper Luckenbach netted the first goal of the day, as the big defender leaped for a big throw-in from Shane Gilliam and headered in the go-ahead goal.
“That felt excellent, especially on senior night knowing that I can contribute in such a way, especially for the guys that have been great to me and working hard all season,” Luckenbach said.”
The Centurions were hungry for more and pushed it right back up the field. A Golden Valley foul in the box brought senior Andrew Alfaro back into the game to take the penalty kick. Alfaro’s shot was saved by Grizzlies keeper Gelber Sandoval but the senior chased down the deflected shot and buried the 2-0 goal.
It was Alfaro’s first goal of the season, as the senior captain was forced to the sidelines this season with an injury.
Saugus head coach Seth Groller loved the energy he saw from his team that led to some early scoring.
“The energy that we had, especially in the first half, was better than I’ve seen from our guys all season,” Groller said. “I think part of it was senior night and part of it was that energy knowing that this is a must-win, and it was kind of a playoff scenario for us where we had to take the three points for the win. I couldn’t be more proud of how they played.”
Both teams had chances to score throughout the league battle but no one could find the back of the net.
One of the reasons for that: the two goalkeepers on the pitch. Sandoval played another great game, stopping everything he could and tallying four saves.
For Saugus, sophomore keeper Ethan Murillo earned his third shutout of the season. Murillo held Grizzlies forwards Alex Risdon and Will Flint off the scoreboard with five saves.
Risdon made some nice plays on the day. The senior nearly registered multiple assists off his corner kicks and almost forced an own goal in the 27th minute after a great spin move that got him an open shot on target. The shot deflected off a Centurion defender but Murillo was able to stop the ball.
The Grizzlies (8-7-4, 5-4-1) had much better energy in the second half and at least one goal seemed imminent.
“The game plan was to kind of keep them off balance and play the ball at our feet but we just got frantic again,” said Golden Valley coach Stephen Evison. “Very low energy and very low execution. It just wasn’t the style that we wanted. We were looking more for a style that we were playing in the second half.”
Saugus’ backline did a solid job throughout the final 40 minutes to keep Golden Valley scoreless for just the second time in league play this season.
“We had a ton of rotations and subs defensively,” Luckenbach said. “Everybody who came in was playing lights-out. I felt like it was just an excellent match defensively and all around.”
The Centurions were just inches away from icing the game after a great back-and-forth drive up the field by Santiago Veizaga and Luckenbach tore through the Grizzlies’ defense. Veizaga hit junior Lincoln Fritz, who just missed the post by an inch.
Saugus is now back to life after winning just one game since mid-December coming into Thursday. The Centurions will need some games to go in their favor for a potential playoff seed but Groller and the Saugus fans were pleased to see the team perform the way they knew they could all season.
“This is the team that I know we could be,” Groller said. “This was a must-win game for us, in order to keep our playoff hopes alive. We needed a win today against a very good Golden Valley team that got the best of us the first time we played. My guys just rose to the occasion.”
Golden Valley needs just one more win or tie to clinch a playoff seed with two matches remaining. The team has hit a minor slump since taking down Hart, snapping the Indians’ four-year-long undefeated streak. However, the Grizzlies have a good shot of turning things around in the final week of play and gaining some momentum before heading into another postseason. Evison will keep his guys motivated as Golden Valley continues to aim for the program’s first-ever second-place finish in league.
Golden Valley will host Valencia on the Grizzlies’ senior night on Tuesday. The Grizzlies will look for another strong 80 minutes of soccer after squandering a 2-0 lead at Valencia earlier this season.
Saugus will be off Tuesday but heads to Castaic on Thursday. Both matches are slated for 3:15 p.m.
“I’m hoping to finish strong in league,” Luckenbach said. “Whether we make it to playoffs or not is up in the air. We can hope but all we can do is play hard against Castaic and control what we can control.”