By Steve Breazeale
After a first half that saw them dominate ball possession and the scoreboard, the San Clemente boys soccer team held on to survive a late push by visiting Bell High to claim a 3-1 CIF SoCal Regional first round victory on March 5.
The Tritons (31-2-1) held a commanding 2-0 lead when the second half started but gave up a free kick goal to the Eagles (16-4-3) in the 60th minute that made things 2-1. Bell continued to press the issue on offense and created good opportunities to score off throw-ins and set pieces.
With limited opportunities coming their way, the Tritons benefited from a Bell defensive miscue when a long clearance from San Clemente senior defender Connor Tobia bounced off an Eagle defender’s head and into his own goal to make it 3-1.
The Eagles’ own goal provided the Tritons with some breathing room and helped them advance to the second round, which will be played at home on March 7 against either Warren or La Costa Canyon High. Results were not available at press time.
There have been multiple games this season when San Clemente head coach Mike Pronier has seen his team get out to an early lead, only to let up off the gas later on. He saw that same scenario take place against Bell.
“I think we came out well enough to take the game, I just think we showed a little lack of maturity (with the score at 2-0),” Pronier said. “They sort of backed off a bit and that’s unfortunate because had they kept pushing I think we could have gotten that third goal…At 2-1 all of a sudden it’s a scramble and fortunately we got an own goal.”
San Clemente had the opportunity to stretch their lead to 3-0 in the 31st minute after being awarded a penalty kick, but senior midfielder Oscar Vasquez’s hard shot was blocked by the Eagles junior keeper Kevin Rincon.
Senior forward Gage Zerboni has 25 goals on the season but has been held scoreless in his last three matches. The UCLA commit bruised his ankle in the team’s CIF-SS title clinching win over Servite on March 2 but did not appear to be limited. Zerboni was part of the Tritons first goal and tallied an assist when he lofted a cross to junior midfielder Alek Cucuk, who scored on a header in the seventh minute.
The Tritons second goal was almost identical to their first, when junior Bryce Kaminski scored on a header sent in by junior midfielder Oscar Hernandez in the 21st minute to make things 2-0.
The first two Tritons scoring strikes were a result of their dominant ball possession, which eluded them late in the second.
“This will obviously serve as a wake up call…moving forward we aren’t going to be able to play like that and still beat good teams,” Zerboni said. “We just need to keep it going 100 percent for 80 minutes…If we lose, we’re out, so I think we just need to keep that in our heads.”