LANCASTER — The joyous celebration by the Eastside boys soccer team wasn’t just for a hard-fought playoff victory on Saturday afternoon, but also for making school history.
The Lions defeated Norwalk 2-1 in a CIF-Southern Section Division 4 second-round playoff match at Eastside High School to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time in program history.
“It’s undescribable,” said Eastside senior Jaret Rojas, who scored the tying goal in the first half. “It’s the first time for our school that we’ve ever been to the quarterfinals. This is a great accomplishment. I have no words, just pure excitement and joy.”
Eastside (17-4-3) will play at Rialto in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. Rialto beat Great Oak 4-3 on Saturday.
“It feels amazing, making history,” said Eastside junior Chris Romero, who scored the winning goal. “I’m speechless. We made history. We beat a team that was undefeated. It shows the record doesn’t matter. It’s the effort you put on the field and all the hard work you put on the field.”
Romero scored in the 58th minute, from 10 yards away, sparking an exuberant celebration by the Lions.
“We keep our team motivated,” said Romero, a third-year varsity player. “After you miss, you keep your head up. More chances will come and next time finish it.
“Everything that shows in practice, show in the game. It really paid off in this game.”
Eastside was able to withstand an intense finish.
Eastside senior Miguel Cruz had a header go off the cross bar in the 77th minute from a free kick from 40 yards by Eastside senior Bryan Lima.
Romero had a shot from eight yards out deflected by a diving Norwalk senior goalie Leonardo Mondragon in the 78th minute, from a corner kick by Cruz.
“First time in the quarterfinals. We just made history,” Eastside coach Jorge Vega said. “We played with heart.”
The Lancers (18-1-3), the No. 3 seed and undefeated entering the match, made a serious threat in stoppage time.
A free kick by Norwalk senior Angel Bernal sailed high.
After Norwalk sophomore Erick Velasco collided with Eastside junior goalie Israel Sanabria, an Eastside defender blocked a shot from just a few yards out with his body.
Norwalk also had a corner kick in stoppage time, but the Eastside defense cleared the ball.
“To maintain that intensity, it all comes down to who wants it more,” Eastside assistant coach Luiz Jimenez said. “Last 10 minutes, it’s up to you. You’re up 2-1. You quit now, you’re quitting forever. So you have to push through. That’s what it came down to. They knew it. They pushed through.”
Rojas said the Lions do a seven-minute drill during practice, where the defense is tested.
“It paid off right here as you see,” Rojas said. “It was the key.
“The want and passion to want to keep going and move on, that’s key. Everybody here, they know what their job is. We just keep our head up. If we keep our positive mentality and we know we can make it all the way to the finals, we can win, but we’ll take it game by game.”
Velasco scored first for Norwalk, in the 28th minute, from the far side, just eight yards out. Sanabria got a piece of the shot, but it slowly rolled past him into the goal.
“We’ve been through many tough games in our league,” Rojas said. “On Thursday when we played La Sierra, we were down 1-0, so we knew still had a chance and we have a really good team. We just had to pick up our keeper. We had his back. Everybody knows that hard work pays off and we weren’t going to let that go to waste. We didn’t keep our heads down and we fought to the end.”
The Lions were playing with their backup goalie, after Eastside junior goalie Daniel Pantaleon was injured in the last match for the Lions.
“We expected a lot from him,” Vega said of Sanabria. “After they scored that first one on him, the team pretty much told him, ‘You know what, don’t worry about it. We’re here for you. We got this. We got your back.’ They proved it on the field. They came out and played their hearts out.”
A few of the Eastside players said a few quick words to Sanabria after he gave up the goal.
“It’s OK. They scored a goal on us, but we came back strong,” Romero said. “We told our goalie to keep his head up. We got his back and we did.”
The Lions did keep their heads up and were able to quickly respond.
Rojas scored on a shot from 12 yards out, past a diving Mondragon.
“First of all, they have a good keeper,” Vega said of Norwalk senior goalie Leonardo Mondragon. “They continued to challenge the keeper. Jaret had an amazing shot. That first goal was amazing. The second shot, we found it in the small box and it paid off. We were able to find the back of the net.”
Eastside kept up its offensive pressure to start the second half, again led by Lima, who had a shot deflected in the 49th minute by Mondragon.
“Just not giving up. You’re body may be feeling tired, but you’ve got to train your mind not to give up,” Rojas said. “We do that every day at practice. Our coach pushing us harder and harder.”
Several Norwalk players were overcome with emotion following the match and their first loss of the season, after 21 matches without a loss.
“They left it on the field. They did their best,” Norwalk coach Vinson Pluma said. “We’re in a little different environment than we’re used to. A little windy and a little cold for us. They played their hearts out. (Eastside) is a good, quality team. On any day, it could go either way. We scored first, but I could have made some better subs. I played a little bit more defensive than I should have. I should have come out a little bit more offensive. I think the wind had a little bit of a factor. We weren’t adjusted very well. I think home field advantage didn’t help us. That’s part of playoffs. You have to be able to play anywhere under any conditions.
“I’m proud of our boys. They were undefeated up to this point. It has to go at some point. They did their best. That’s all I can ask. That’s a good team though. They’re probably going to go another few games I think.”