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CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION DIVISION 7 BOYS SOCCER PLAYOFFS – Defense carries Whitney into semifinals for first time, Wildcats to face division’s top team


May 20, 2021

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

Whitney High’s boys soccer team has gone though an interesting season, to say the least. The Wildcats, with four girls as part of their 18-member squad, didn’t play a non-league contest but still did enough to finish in a tie for second place in the 605 League.

Two key components for Whitney’s success in this pandemic season have been a solid defense and the foot of senior forward Rodrigo Mecol and those two powered the Wildcats to a 1-0 win over fourth-ranked Mary Star of the Sea High this past Wednesday in the CIF-Southern Section Division 7 quarterfinals. The sixth-ranked Wildcats, who improved to 8-2-1, will now host top-ranked University Prep, a 3-2 winner against Apple Valley High, in Saturday’s semifinals. University Prep, the champions of the Cross Valley League, will enter the game at 11-0-1. It’s the first time any Whitney boys soccer team has advanced to the semifinals.

“Since the beginning of the year, we knew it was a special year,” said Whitney first-year head coach Juan Luis Arevalo. “Again, we ended up having a coed team, which even made it more special and just the fact that the boys brought them in, and the girls had to be brave enough to play with the boys…I think it kind of foreshadowed the type of the season we were going to have.”

The outcome of the game could have changed in the 78th minute, though, had it not been for a missed penalty shot. Fighting off several Mary Star players as they were furiously attempting to notch the tying goal, senior goalkeeper Salvador Ortiz was called for a penalty when he unintentionally barreled over a player.in the box. That set the stage for Jose Urdiano, who was Mary Star’s goalkeeper in the first half, to take the penalty kick. But he kicked it wide right of the net to preserve the win. Moments later, a member of the Mary Star coaching staff could be heard saying, ‘I had told Bryan [Saldana] to take the kick, but it’s the player’s decision’. Over the next several minutes, which included stoppage time, the Stars continued to attack the goal but to no avail.

“I don’t know if it was destiny or not; you saw them miss the penalty, but we’ll take it,” Arevalo said. “Sometimes in games, it’s not who’s the best. Sometimes luck has to do with it. Thank god luck was on our side today.”

Whitney, which had previously fallen in the quarterfinals in the 2008-2009, 2009-2010 and 2016-2017 seasons, were limited to three shots on goal in the first half. The best chance came two minutes into the contest when a free kick off the foot of senior forward Humberto Ortiz sailed above the crossbar. Three minutes later, a header from Mary Star’s Fabian Sanchez, went into the waiting arms of Salvador Ortiz.

Throughout the game, the Stars were gaining the upper hand on the offensive side, taking more shots on goal and spending a lot of time on Whitney’s side of the goal. But all season long, the Wildcats have been a defensive team, posting five shutouts before the quarterfinals and yielding 12 goals in the previous 10 games, though five goals came against Artesia High on Apr. 29.

“Unfortunately, at Whitney, we don’t have much soccer experienced players,” Arevalo said. “The easiest thing to do as any player who is starting to play, is defense. Half of our team does not have the ball skills necessarily to be a little bit more offensive. So, we focus more on defense. Our motto is we can’t lose if they can’t score in us.”

The lone tally of the game came in the 59th minute when sophomore midfielder Koa DeLeon, one of the four female players, fed a pass to Mecol on the left side of the field whose beautiful shot went between the near post and goalkeeper Itzman Casillas. It was Mecol’s team-leading 14th goal of the season while three other players have combined for Whitney’s seven other goals this season. Mecol has scored in all three playoff games and seven of the 11 games.

“Rodrigo was a pleasant surprise,” Arevalo said. “In the beginning [of the season], we knew he had the skills, but once the season started and after the first game, it was just something special to see. Everybody gravitates to him; his personality is good [and] he’s not selfish. So, I think that has a lot to do with the players feeding him the ball. It’s no secret that he’s our MVP. Where he goes is the way the team goes. If he is good and healthy, I think our chances are pretty good to make it to the finals.”

The winner of the Saturday’s game will face the winner of the Duarte High/Sierra Canyon High contest on May 28 or 29. Sierra Canyon (12-2-0), champions of the Gold Coast League, is the second ranked team in the division while Duarte (8-3-0), the second place representative out of the Montview League, is ranked third and has shutout its three playoff opponents.