Cathedral Catholic boys capture third CIF Open title in PK shootout over San Pasqual
When No. 1-seed Cathedral Catholic stepped onto the field at Mission Bay High School Friday, May 28, to take on third-seeded San Pasqual for the CIF Open Division Boys Soccer Championship, all signals looked to be pointing in the right direction. They were the top seed, had not allowed a goal in their first two playoff outings and three nights earlier in the semi-finals had decimated a well-regarded Del Norte squad, 5-0, playing what Head Coach Nate Hetherington essentially considered their best game of the season. It seemed a classic example of a team peaking at just the right time.
Well, things didn’t go exactly to script against San Pasqual. The Dons went scoreless in 80 minutes of regulation and 10 minutes of overtime, despite playing the last 38:19 with a man advantage thanks to a red card issued to the Golden Eagles’ Victor Valle. Yet Hetherington’s resilient charges kept their heads, didn’t get frustrated at their lack of offensive success and ultimately prevailed in penalty kicks. Junior Stefano Brunetto converted the final kick for a clinching, 4-2, edge, Cathedral’s third CIF Open title and first since 2016.
“I heard all their fans chanting ‘over-rated’ and I heard someone say ‘are you nervous?’ “ said Brunetto of his walk to the penalty spot. “I just thought I don’t want to show anyone I’m nervous and tried to do the same run-up I’ve always used.
“I thought ‘if I don’t do it here, then when will I ever do it?’ I usually take a slow approach and look up at the last second to see if the keeper dives a little bit and then I pick my side. I saw him lean to the right so I went left.” And, as they say, the rest is history.
Hetherington was confident heading into the extra session, even though San Pasqual had gained momentum by simply carrying the game to PKs and experienced the PK drill in Tuesday night’s semi-final conquest of St. Augustine.
“We practiced that a lot leading up to this game, the last five training sessions we all took pins for the majority of the end of each session,” said Hetherington, whose been on the bench for each of the Dons’ three CIF Open crowns. “We identified who those players were going to be and they knew they were going out there. They stepped up to the occasion today.”
While Brunetto may have been the one basking in most of the glory immediately after connecting on the deciding kick, it was another junior, goalkeeper Brady Bachman, who made the moment possible.
Amidst the post-game revelry, the quiet, unruffled Bachman came across as someone who had woken up from a nice nap as opposed to just blocking two of four penalty shots fired at him in as high pressure a situation as one can experience in soccer.
Asked about his mental checklist when stepping on the line in that crucial scenario, Bachman made it sound easy. “I just try to keep things calm, not really look or interact with anyone,” he said. “I try not to treat it differently than anything else. A PK’s a PK—just another shot.
“My decision-making was a little bit scouting report and a little bit of intuition. We watched their PKs from Tuesday night and they did the same thing today.”
Bachman’s first block was key, coming in the second round, on the heels of Cathedral’s only miss and kept the shootout level at one apiece. Save No. 2 followed a make by CC senior Finn Mahoney and put Brunetto in position to secure the championship with his finish less than a minute later . His keeper’s showing didn’t surprise Hetherington.
“Brady has been absolutely spotless all year and to see him come up with two saves to give us the championship is really special but not unexpected,” said Hetherington. “It’s nice to see good people rewarded.”
The 90 minutes spent in the run of play was a showcase of two teams that refused to yield. The quick, physical Golden Eagles (17-5-2), who had given up just two goals during the eight-game winning streak they brought into the contest, never allowed Cathedral Catholic to get untracked offensively. And even though gritty San Pasqual controlled much of the play in the midfield, it was equally unable to break down the top seed.
Things opened up considerably for the Dons after they gained the man advantage but at times it appeared they were trying too hard and forcing the action a bit.
“In our final third, we definitely were not patient enough,” said Hetherington. “That is somewhat unlike us but I think, in the moment, they wanted it so bad that it’s sometimes hard to always think intelligently when you get around the goal.”
From the field, Brunetto shared his perspective. “I think they were really good defensively. I couldn’t get on the turn when I was going down the side,” he said, “but once we went up a man, I think we got too anxious. A few times we probably should have made an extra pass instead of going right to goal.”
In the end, despite the admirable spirit demonstrated by San Pasqual in thwarting the Dons and reaching the penalty kick phase, Cathedral Catholic was the team able to do what was needed to claim the big prize and that’s all Hetherington was asking of his side.
“Obviously, you’ve got a little bit of frustration because you think you should have gotten it done in regular time, but we know this is soccer,” said Hetherington. “It doesn’t matter what should happen but what does happen and how we respond to that.
“We weren’t playing to our true level and San Pasqual had something to do with that, but bottom line, we were able to just keep going, not give up and stay together as a team. Our players were positive, no one was pointing fingers or looking for excuses—we just kept pushing.”
When it was over, Hetherington was emotional about what his team had accomplished. “This one really means a lot to me,” he said. “We knew it was going to be a challenging year, then not even knowing if we were going to have a season—we needed this as a group.
“For these guys, who have had such a difficult 12-15 months, to see them rewarded with a CIF Championship means the world.”
The Dons will start play in the CIF Southern California Regional Tournament Tuesday, June 1, at home against Servite (Anaheim). Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.
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