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The Day After Soccer: Soccer’s stage set

For Saugus girls and Hart boys, it’s simple — a win means a crown

Posted: February 9, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 9, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Saugus Avery Schulhofer (20) and Hart’s Danica Morgan battle for the ball at Hart High on Jan. 31.

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In a matter of hours Tuesday, four Foothill League girls soccer teams saw their fates swing in wildly different directions.

The day started off with West Ranch and Saugus battling to a 1-1 draw, opening up a golden opportunity for Hart to take control of the league title race with a win later in the day over Valencia.

The Indians entered the day in a first-place tie with the Centurions.

West Ranch took the field against Saugus just one point behind Valencia for third place in league. With Valencia set to face a Hart team that had beaten it earlier in the season, it looked like the Wildcats’ Thursday meeting with the Vikings would take place with a playoff spot on the line.

But hours later, the Vikings defeated the Indians 2-1 at Valencia High, opening the door for Saugus to secure its third straight league title with a win over Golden Valley on Thursday.

It also eliminated the Wildcats’ chance of securing an automatic playoff spot.

“(Our fate) went from after the game being in Hart’s hands,” said Saugus head coach Natalie Helgeson. “And all of a sudden, (Hart) lost to Valencia and we can control our own destiny now and we need to win. If we do our job, and we win (today), we’ll be league champs, and we’ll deserve it.”

The Vikings, who have been playing their best soccer of the season over the last three games, fell behind to a Hart team that features a tremendous backline.

But Valencia kept chipping away, finding the equalizer early in the second half on a goal by Eryn Spencer. The Vikings won on Taylor Venegas’ goal in the final four minutes to clinch a third-place finish in league.

“We held firm,” said Valencia head coach Sean O’Connell. “The girls were just really, really motivated. My goalkeeper (Nicole Joseph) played outstanding.”

The Indians will now hope Golden Valley can defeat or draw with Saugus, while Hart will need to win at Canyon.

“Our plan was to transition quickly and try to catch (Valencia) on their heels,” said Hart head coach Mike Gomez. “(That) worked in the first half, and in the second half they scored both goals and there were two mistakes. (The Vikings) played the ball off to the left side and were able to cross the ball and we were not there to clear it.”

Valencia sits three points ahead of West Ranch, so there is a chance of a tie. According to Foothill League bylaws, a tie would be broken first by head-to-head competition, and the two teams split their regular season meetings.

The next tiebreaker is a point system that assigns weighted values to wins and ties based on the final Foothill League standings.

Under that scenario, the Vikings would win the tiebreaker under any possible outcome.

“I think that when we beat West Ranch 4-1 (in the first meeting on Jan. 24), that’s when it started, and the catalyst was losing to Golden Valley (2-1 on Jan. 27),” O’Connell said. “To lose that game after coming off such a high, beating West Ranch, that really galvanized the team. They weren’t going to let that game define the rest of the season.”

West Ranch, though, amassed a quality preseason record, which includes a win over Sacred Flintridge Heart, currently ranked No. 50 in the ESPNHS Powerade Fab 50 Girls’ Soccer Winter Rankings.

As a result, the Wildcats are in a good position to earn a wild-card berth to the CIF-Southern Section Division I playoffs.

At the other end of the standings, Canyon tied Golden Valley 0-0. The draw locks Golden Valley into sixth place in the league in a season in which the team won its first Foothill League game in program history. Canyon could finish in fourth or fifth after the final day’s action.

Just another wild day in Foothill League girls soccer.

The drama isn’t any less captivating on the boys side.

Hart currently sits in first place with a one-point lead over Canyon, after the Indians battled to a 1-1 draw with Valencia on Tuesday.

Last season, the Indians also entered the final day with a one-point lead and a chance to clinch the Foothill League. But a tie with Valencia, coupled with a West Ranch victory, gave the Wildcats the Foothill League championship.

“We’re not playing for second,” said Hart head coach Adonay Jovel of Thursday’s match against Canyon. “We’re either winning or winning.”

The Indians had no shortage of offensive chances on Tuesday, but were only able to score on a Sammy Reyes penalty kick in the 18th minute.

The Vikings immediately bounced back and scored the equalizer three minutes later on a goal by Jesus Fernandez from 25 yards out.

“Very pleased with that result,” said Valencia head coach Tony Scalercio. “We’re playing against Hart, who is a good team, who is playing to win first place. And we were able to keep them out of the goal and tie them at their place.”

Canyon enters today’s league-title clash fresh off a 3-1 win over Golden Valley on Tuesday.

A.J. Rochow scored the opening goal for the Cowboys, with Bonifacio Rojas and Justin Hill adding the other two goals.

In the race for third place and the final automatic playoff spot, West Ranch sits one point ahead of Valencia.

The Wildcats tied Saugus 0-0 on Tuesday and will travel to Valencia today.

The Foothill League boys and girls soccer seasons may be nine games in. But on the final day of the regular season, the storylines are as compelling as ever.

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