The top-seeded Torrey Pines boys soccer team escaped a treacherous first round scenario Tuesday night, surviving a late upset bid to defeat visiting eighth-seed La Costa Canyon in penalty kicks, 1-1 (5-3) in the CIF Open Division quarterfinals. Torrey Pines (13-2-7) now hosts No. 4-seed Scripps Ranch in a Tuesday night semi-final clash with the winner advancing to the CIF Championship game, Friday, Feb. 22, at Mission Bay High School. La Costa Canyon finishes its season 9-6-8.
Tuesday marked the third meeting of the season between these longtime rivals and when regulation and overtime were concluded, the two had put in a combined total of 255 minutes that resulted in three ties—meaning the game, season series and post-season survival would come down to penalty kicks. That was like putting icing on the cake for Torrey Pines senior Michael Mines who launched the PK session by burying his kick in the back of the net.
“I love penalty kicks, we do it all the time in practice, get the nerves going,” said Mines moments after the Falcons had iced the outcome by going 5-for-5 from the penalty spot. “I honestly love the pressure and love going first—it’s a special opportunity to put my team ahead and try to instill confidence in everyone else.”
Few who had watched the game unfold would have expected it to reach that circumstance. The Avocado West League champion Falcons came out playing a first class brand of soccer, putting the Mavericks on their heels and repeatedly threatening in the final third. In the 10th minute, Torrey got early payback for its efforts. Senior Ish Uno curled a slick pass up the left sideline to senior Ryan Crean who took it to the box where he was wrestled down and earned a penalty kick. Crean calmly slotted the 12-yd. try to put the home team on top.
Despite Torrey Pines’ continued offensive command of the game, that’s how it stood all the way through the midway point of the second half, thanks in large part to some brilliant play by LCC junior goalkeeper Garrett Sevison, the only non-senior in the lineup, and senior center back Jake Aaknes. Aaknes made two game-saving second half clearances off the goal line to keep the Mavs’ chances alive.
With roughly 20 minutes remaining in regulation, LCC Head Coach Craig Dean shifted his team’s formation, pushing players forward to open the field up a bit and hopefully create more offense. The tactic got the Mavericks moving and with 17:40 to go, an Aaknes throw-in found itself in a throng in front of the TP goal. It ended up on the foot of senior Nick Ciepley who blindly bicycled it towards the goal where it was corralled by another senior, Gio Villansenor. He easily lofted the ball into the goal from in tight—and suddenly, a one-sided affair was tied.
The goal seemed to ignite La Costa Canyon which got the better of the last 10-15 minutes and should have won the game in the final minute when a second Villasenor goal on the end of a two-on-none breakaway was waved off by a controversial offsides call. Given a reprieve, Torrey Pines re-found its footing in overtime and ultimately prevailed with its PK prowess. Head Coach Andy Hargreaves wasn’t too self-assured heading into the deciding segment.
“LCC’s a good team and over the years, we’ve had a lot of games where we’ve outplayed them but came away with either a loss or a tie,” said Hargreaves, whose club let a 2-0 lead slip away to these same Mavericks in last winter’s CIF semi-finals, also as the No. 1 seed. “Sometimes, that can become a mental block—they’re a senior group, we’re a little younger and when they scored, you could feel a little of that ‘here we go again’ reaction from our players. In the back of my mind, I felt it too.
“Penalty kicks, it’s such a crapshoot. It can go either way. But to be able to overcome everything and come away with a win the way we did is going to be a big confidence booster going forward.”
After Mines put Torrey up, 1-0, junior keeper Nick Bello stretched out to knock away what was a pretty well-placed attempt by LCC’s first shooter Dane Bruhahn. “Bello is the best,” said Mines. “He saved us in PKs against San Clemente in the holiday tournament too. Knowing he’s in goal and knowing who’s kicking behind me, I’m confident every time we go into this situation.”
For Torrey Pines it was Alec Philibbosian, Uno, Ted Merrifield and Cody Black following Mines lead with lanky midfielder Black supplying the knockout punch, just as he did in the aforementioned tournament title contest with San Clemente. Stutter-stepping in his approach, he saw Sevison leaning left and beat him right.
“I live for those moments,” said Black, channeling Mines. “I was thinking about it last night and was thinking about it all day in school—what would I do if there was a penalty shootout? I just had to put it away.
“We needed to get revenge on LCC for last year’s seniors. That was a devastating loss and there was no way we could let that happen again.” It’s now one down, two more to go for the Falcons who hope to garner their first-ever CIF Open Division crown (they were runner-ups in 2014 and ’15) and first of any kind since capturing the Division I title in 2012. Mines likes his team’s chances.
“I was definitely nervous tonight but this team has heart—everyone plays with heart,” he said with emphasis. “Last year we were more talented but the heart on this team is unbelievable.
“Every opponent we play going forward is going to bring their best against us and I, honestly, love that—the whole team loves that. Right now, I’m just excited that we get to keep playing.”