Surprising Loara ends up in first CIF final
ANAHEIM – Relief and jubilation swept over the Loara boys soccer team as the ref whistled the match to an end.
From wild-card berth to finalist, the Saxons have ascended the mountain that is the CIF-SS Division 2 playoffs.
Freshman Rafael Reyes scored in the 40th minute, and Loara survived some second-half scares as the Saxons defeated Royal of Simi Valley, 1-0, in the Division 2 semifinals on Tuesday at Loara High.
“No one thought we would get this far,” said Luis Aguayo, who had the winning goal in Loara’s quarterfinal victory over top-seeded Santiago of Corona. “We started from the bottom. Now we’re here.”
The Saxons (15-5-4) advanced to their first championship game in school history. They will face Warren in the final on Friday or Saturday. The CIF-SS will announce the finals schedule on Wednesday.
Goalkeeper Juan Carlos Ramirez made 13 saves to make Reyes’ goal stand up.
The Highlanders (20-3-4) dominated the first half territorially, forcing Ramirez to make seven saves.
The Saxons earned the lone goal after a gritty defensive stand.
Royal’s Luis Castaneda lobbed a free kick to the back post where Nick Felix headed it toward the goal. Ramirez was ready for it, and a scramble for the loose rebound resulted in timely blocks by Omar Marquez and Henry Garibay.
Loara looked to counter immediately.
A loose ball came to Noel Gonzalez on the right side and he pressed the issue. Gonzalez dribbled the ball the length of the field before grounding a cross through the box to Reyes, who deposited it into an open left side of the net for the one-goal lead.
In the second half, the Saxons called on Ramirez to preserve the lead. He was up to the task, stopping six shots, including a dangerous free kick in the 67th minute.
Castaneda scorched the ball through a wall of Saxons defenders, but Ramirez dove to his right and got his gloves on it for the save.
“I knew he was going to go straight at me with the bullet,” he said. “It was really close.”
Saxons coach Guillermo Montejano never doubted his goalkeeper’s ability to come up big.
“I’ve been having a lot of confidence in that guy,” he said of Ramirez. “To be honest, I never thought (the ball) was going to go in.”