By Erik Boal Staff Writer
LA CAADA FLINTRIDGE — In a game of inches, not even the well-placed right foot of Luke Hatanaka could rescue the St. Francis boys’ soccer team Tuesday.
By the time St. Francis and Ventura broke their post-match huddles, neither coach was certain whether Kevin De Los Santos’ header in the 86th minute resulted in the ball crossing the goal line for the winning score.
But despite 12 saves from goalkeeper Luca Coppola and plenty of resilience demonstrated by a short-handed Golden Knights’ lineup, Ventura managed to preserve its unbeaten season with a 2-1 overtime victory in the second round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 playoffs.
“I couldn’t see if it was on the line or not,” Ventura coach Todd Tackett said. “What I do know is that is not your normal 8-8-8 team. Glen (Appels) always does a great job of preparing his team well this time of year. We knew we’d be in for a fight.”
After Erick Sandoval scored the tying goal in the 73rd minute by redirecting a 20-yard free kick from Joe Hernandez inside the right post, the battle extended to a 10-minute sudden-death period.
Although Billy Abdallah made a sliding tackle to save a shot by Juan Leon in the 83rd minute, St. Francis couldn’t escape Ventura’s next throw-in unscathed.
De Los Santos elevated in the middle of the penalty area and headed a shot over Coppola’s head, but Hatanaka was waiting on the goal line to clear the ball. Unfortunately for the St. Francis junior defender, his effort was for naught as the center official signaled Ventura had scored the winning goal.
“I looked at the (sideline referee) and he had his flag down and was running back toward midfield, so I thought that indicated it wasn’t a goal,” Golden Knights coach Glen Appels said. “That’s a tough call to make at that point. It has to be really decisive when you’re in sudden-death overtime. I think our guys were looking at it through brown-and-gold-colored glasses, but in that situation the entire the ball needs to be across the entire line.”
Despite surrendering a goal in the fifth minute to Matt Laterza, Ventura (22-0-6) managed to earn a measure of revenge following a 2-0 setback to St. Francis (8-9-8) in the second round last season.
“The word on our white board was ‘redemption,’” Tackett said. “I thought they defended really well. We struggled to get our offense going against them, but in golden goal, anything can happen. It was nice to get that last one in. At halftime, I told them to ‘make this game a memory for yourself.’ They believe they can do it and they continue to find a way.”
With St. Francis playing the majority of the second half and overtime without injured midfielders Reed Izumi and Eric Bocanegra — who assisted on Laterza’s goal — along with Austin Frank and Laterza both playing through nagging injuries, a lack of depth became a factor for the Golden Knights.
Still, Laterza had a shot carom off the crossbar early in the second half and Ventura goalkeeper Eric Kam came up with a point-blank stop on a breakaway attempt by Frank in the 66th minute, denying St. Francis a two-goal advantage.
“If Matt’s shot were two inches lower, we’d be talking about our game Thursday,” Appels said. “I told them at halftime that we can’t just hope to sit back and defend for 40 minutes and that’s why the chances we had to go up 2-0 and didn’t convert cost us. But we did everything we could with what we had, relying on our freshmen to play against their seniors. Our guys fought to the last second and to the last inch, literally to the last inch. But they’re not undefeated for no reason.”