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By Zach Cavanagh

DOWNEY – Last season, San Clemente got tantalizingly close to another shot at a CIF-SS title, but Cathedral of Los Angeles shut the door in an eight-round shootout in the Division 1 semifinals.

A year later, the Tritons got their championship chance against those same Phantoms, and it was San Clemente that got the last laugh.

San Clemente exerted offensive pressure for nearly the entirety of the 80 minutes, and Daniel Tuscano found the game’s lone tally in the 38th minute to push the Tritons over Cathedral, 1-0, and earn the CIF-SS Division 1 Championship on Saturday at Warren High School.

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“It just kind of felt like revenge,” San Clemente senior Blake Bowen said. “It was just a perfect ending. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. It was the No. 1 thing on our mind all week. That we wanted to go out and beat this team. That’s what we did. Got that ring.”

San Clemente (23-2-4) won its first CIF-SS title since 2013 and played in its first final since 2014. The Tritons, ranked No. 5 nationally by USA Today, were in their fourth Division 1 title game in the last nine seasons and also won a title in 2011.

“At the beginning of the season, we already had goals,” Tuscano said. “We were talking about CIF championships from the very beginning, and now we’re here.”

San Clemente, which took the South Coast League for a second straight season with an undefeated run, won its 14th consecutive game and is unbeaten in its previous 18 games. The Tritons’ last loss was to Cathedral, ranked No. 9 nationally by USA Today, in the LottoSport Western Showcase at San Clemente High School in December.

“I think they’re all around great guys,” San Clemente coach Mike Pronier said of his group. “They’re great students. They have an incredible work rate. One of the fittest and fastest teams I’ve had, and that wears on people.”

“The fun comes now. It’s not always fun working this hard, but the fun part comes now. I’m very excited for them.”

San Clemente now awaits the CIF SoCal Regional Draw, which will take place on Sunday with the games beginning next week. Some teams play down the regionals, but the Tritons will still be motivated. Pronier said his team is “hungry” after losing to Loyola at home in double overtime in the regional final last season.

Through the week, Pronier was unsure what lineup he would be able to field on Saturday. Senior fullback Koosha Jadbabaei battled a 103-degree fever and a virus. Senior defender Liam Linas didn’t practice all week with a hyperextended knee. Tuscano stretched ligaments in his ankle. Junior defender Ethan Grush battled hip problems.

“All four, I didn’t know they were going to start,” Pronier said. “They came to me and said they want it, they’re ready. I said, ‘are you sure?’ I almost didn’t with some of them. We put those four guys in and they played like nothing was wrong.”

San Clemente looked ready to go from the start.

The Tritons pushed up field continuously to earn free kicks and sent plenty of balls into the box and around the net. Wave after wave, San Clemente looked for the opening tally, and it finally got it in the 38th minute on a long throw-in.

“I was sitting on top of the box, and I saw the throw,” Tuscano said. “Koosha was right there, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Koosha. Koosha just flicked the ball, and it just came right to me. I just kind of bring it with my chest and hit it right in.”

Tuscano’s score put the Tritons ahead for the game with the only score they needed.

“We knew we were good if we were 0-0 at halftime,” Bowen said. “Being one up at halftime, it was even better. We knew we had that game in the bag once we scored.”

In the second half, goalkeeper Curtis Harvey stepped up for a couple key saves to turn away an initial Cathedral push. Harvey charged out on a 50-50 ball to force the shot and stuck out a leg to deny the chance.

Harvey and the Tritons were also helped by the woodwork as Cathedral hit the crossbar twice and the post in the match.

“We’ve had a little luck in the playoffs,” Pronier said. “Those guys were ready to pull the trigger. One of those guys could have hit that at any given moment. They almost did.”

Cathedral made one last concerted effort in the game’s final eight minutes, but the Tritons turned the Phantoms away at every opportunity to clinch the title.

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