For host Torrey Pines, there was the good and the bad from the first half of Tuesday night’s (Feb. 19) CIF Open Division boys’ soccer semi-final. The good was that the No. 1-seeded home team ran roughshod over Scripps Ranch, the fourth-seeded visitors. The likes Michael Mines, Denzel Zepeda, Ryan Crean, Ted Merrifield, Ish Uno and friends owned the ball and created dangerous offensive chances with regularity.
The bad was that the scoreboard was not counting style points and the only number on the scoreboard was a one, right next to the word Visitor, meaning the goal scored by Scripps Ranch senior Matt Guthrie with 5:10 to go in the half (his 23rd of the year) left the Falcons with just 40 minutes to find the solution to their scoreboard problem
Fortunately for Torrey, the elixir for whatever was impeding its offense in terms of conversion was discovered somewhere in the 10-minute break between periods. The Falcons came out flying in the second half, unleashing an offensive clinic on Scripps Ranch that resulted in a 5-1 victory, that lifted them into Friday night’s (Feb. 22) championship game against Point Loma at Mission Bay High School (7:30 p.m. kickoff).
Torrey Pines, champions of the Avocado West League is now 14-2-7 overall, and back in the section title tilt for the first time since 2015. One of just two teams to reach the Open Division playoffs every year since it was started in 2014, Torrey is still in search of its first Open crown. Its last CIF championship came in 2012 in Division I. Head Coach Andy Hargreaves, who coached that team as well, has seen Tuesday’s scenario play out before.
“Sometimes in games like this it builds and builds, then you score one and it changes the game—that’s what happened tonight.” said Hargreaves. “In the first half, we weren’t doing some of the simple things well.
“At halftime, we re-affirmed those things and for a couple of players who seemed nervous, we just gave them the license to play with freedom and not worry about making mistakes. When we scored, we got that belief back.”
The comeback for the cardinal and gold started five minutes into the second session when senior midfielder Ali Demiralp forwarded the ball to Mines on the right wing. Mines beat his defender but his angled shot was deflected by the Scripps Ranch keeper Alex Lawson and was literally inches from going out of bounds outside the far post when junior Ryan Crean raced in from the left to keep it in play and poke it home.
“That was the easiest goal I’ve ever had,” said a smiling Crean afterward. “I just had to make sure it didn’t go out—it was all my boy Michael (Mines).”
The runaway started just over 10 minutes later when Uno arched a corner kick that 6-foot-2 senior Cody Black directed home with his head. With barely 20 minutes remaining in regulation, Uno made it 3-1, doing the heavy lifting himself by bulling through what appeared to be about half a dozen Scripps Ranch defenders to finally clear get clearance for a shot that he watched slide just inside the far post while sitting where he’d been knocked down. Uno knew what Torrey had to do to get back in the game, but is still a bit hazy on just how he got his side’s third tally.
“Finishing was an issue in the first half but I think we took care of that in the second half by keeping our composure in the final third,” said Uno. “On that goal, I honestly don’t know what happened. I looked up and saw about four-or-five guys and just didn’t want to lose the ball—next thing I know it was going into the back of the net.” He was crystal clear on goal No. 2.
“I’ll be honest about the corner kick. We’ve had about six-or-seven of those this season where Cody (Black) just buried it. Those don’t happen if it isn’t for Cody—I could whip in any ball and he’d find it.”
At the 15:30 mark, seconds after a Mines near miss from the left side, Zepeda, buzzing in from the right side, corralled the ball, cut in front of the goal and let loose, making it 4-1. Seven minutes later Uno got his second goal, a drive to the near post that appeared to have initially been turned away by Lawson before somehow squeezing over the line.
Torrey’s offensive tour de force, particularly in the second half, might have been its best performance of the year. It equaled their top goal output of the season and left the players with even more conviction heading into Friday’s showdown with Point Loma, a team they tied, 3-3, early in the season.
“We’re not worrying about who we play but about how we play,” said Crean after the final whistle but before he knew the Falcons’ championship foe. “We’re going to be ready for it either way.”