How closely matched were CIF Boys Soccer Open Division finalists Torrey Pines and Point Loma? When they met early in the regular season, they played to a 3-3 tie. Friday night in the section finals at Mission Bay High School, the two teams finished 80 minutes of regulation and 15 minutes of overtime knotted at 3-3. Which meant the winner would be determined by penalty kicks and both top-seeded Torrey Pines and seventh seed Point Loma had each prevailed once via PKs in this tournament.
The Falcons’ junior goalkeeper Nick Bello guessed correctly and turned away the Pointers first shot and when senior Michael Mines put his away, Torrey finally had a lead it would never surrender. After another pair of fourth-year players, Alec Philibbosian and Ted Merrifield converted to give the Falcons a one-goal advantage after four rounds, the Pointers final shooter went off the crossbar and Coach Andy Hargreaves’ squad added its first Open Division title to three CIF D-I and two D-II banners.
“This team has got nerves of steel when it come to getting through clutch time,” said Hargreaves whose teams have lost in the finals twice in the previous five years and fell in the semi-finals in 2018. “I hate penalty kicks but our guys have been money all year.
“More than anything, this a really resilient group and very brave—that’s cool to watch and after a few near misses, it’s nice to finally win the Open Division.”
The actual game pitted teams with contrasting methods—Torrey Pines with its possession, ball control, European-style approach against a bigger, physical, long ball-oriented Point Loma outfit. It made for a sometimes frenzied, often chippy and wildly unpredictable contest.
“It was very chaotic at some points,” said Mines, who in addition to his PK make scored Torrey’s second goal. “They are a very good team but they weren’t going to beat us one-on-one at the back.
“But they were so big that every time they took a corner kick or free kick I was scared, particularly when they’d throw that 6-5 center back (Will Barba) in the box.”
It was Barba who got the Pointers on the board first, collecting a free kick and going cross cage from close range at the 12-minute mark. That was a sign of things to come as every one of the night’s six goals resulted from a set piece.
In the 29th minute, Torrey Pines senior Ish Uno, who has become an increasingly important part of the Falcon offense, drove a free kick from the left side into the box. When the Loma keeper was unable to handle the offering, it came out to senior Denzel Zepeda who knocked it in from 10 yds. to tie the score.
It stayed that way through halftime but just over 14 minutes into the second session, Bello parried a Point Loma free kick, blocked one rebound but couldn’t stop a second by John Croxson and the Pointers were back on top, 2-1.
At that stage, the momentum seemed to swing back to Torrey Pines. At 67:46, Zepeda launched the last of three consecutive Falcon corner kicks. It found Mines on the far post and he got his head on it and re-directed into the net.
“Every single practice, we go through all aspects of set pieces—it’s something we always work on,” said Zepeda. “I try to find a teammate near one of the posts so the keeper has a challenge and then we’ll see what happens.”
Under six minutes later, Uno rocked a long, sharp-angled free kick that Mines called “one of the best shots I’ve ever seen,” off the crossbar and in, stunningly putting Point Loma on the short end of the score for the first time, 3-2. Just as shockingly, Point Loma responded in less than a minute, a 35-yd. free kick by Jake Donlon appearing to snake its way into the net untouched.
That craziness eventually led to the conclusive penalty kicks, a platform where Mines seems to thrive. “I never felt any pressure,” he said. “We know what Nick (Bello) can do and I know my boys are going to make their shots behind me so I go out there very loose—no doubts.
“As I’ve said before, this team has a big heart and I know even when we’re down, everyone is going to be playing hard to the final whistle and that was key tonight.”
Especially for the seniors, Friday night’s triumph, at least partially, wiped away the sting of last year’s playoffs where the undefeated, No. 1-ranked Falcons stumbled in the semi-finals, surrendering a two-goal lead in the final minutes before ultimately losing in OT to rival La Costa Canyon, a foe they had beaten twice.
“Last year when we lost, I was really bummed and felt afterward that there was a piece of me that I regretted,” recalled Mines. “We went on to win in the state tournament but we didn’t win CIF so this was so important to all of us.”
Senior captain Ali Demiralp put the evening in perspective. “That was a very good team we played out there tonight but I think we were the better side,” he said. “Everything I’ve been working for, we as seniors have been working for, for four years, came together tonight—it feels amazing.”