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By Steve Breazeale
It was evident from the opening whistle that visiting Claremont was not going to let defending CIF-SS Division 1 champion San Clemente protect their title easily. The bullish Wolfpack came at the Tritons early and often in their CIF-SS second-round match on Feb. 25, but two timely goals by junior forward Matias Ledesma ultimately sealed a 3-1 victory.
Claremont (14-3-7) came in playing the role of aggressor, bottling up midfield and pressuring the Tritons (23-2-1) in the opening half. After racking up three yellow cards in the first 30 minutes, Claremont struck first.
The Tritons failed to clear a long Claremont throw-in and a loose ball in the box was thudded by the Wolfpack’s defenseman Mauricio Aguilar through a host of bodies and into the net for a 1-0 lead at the 32-minute mark.
With the clock winding down in stoppage time, Tritons senior Alek Cucuk flicked a pass behind his back to junior Eddie Molia, who fired a shot off at Claremont keeper Bryan Landgreen’s outstretched arms. Ledesma followed the play, collected the rebound and scored on an awkward angle to equalize just before the half.
Offside calls plagued the Tritons in the second half, halting their momentum while the Wolfpack continued to press. San Clemente junior goalie Cole Martinez made five saves on the night, none more important than his point blank save in the 44th minute that denied Claremont’s Jack Kolodge’s potential go-ahead goal.
With just under eight minutes to play, Ledesma used his head to send a pass over the Claremont defense to a waiting Cucuk and the senior midfielder sent it past Landgreen to give the Tritons a 2-1 lead.
Ledesma added one more goal less than two minutes later when senior forward Bryce Kaminski sent a pass to the middle of the box, right on the foot of Ledesma, who one-timed it into the net for his second goal of the night.
“It was a tough game because it was a little physical. They were knocking us off balance and tackling really hard … So we fought through that in the second half and didn’t try to be so perfect,” San Clemente head coach Mike Pronier said. “It was great to see Ledesma come through today. He’s been getting better all season and he made a couple of nice shots which made the difference.”
The Tritons will now travel to play St. John Bosco in the quarterfinals on Feb. 27.