They had to survive a fight (literally) with Lassen and two overtime periods against Cabrillo, but the Taft College men's soccer team still has its No. 1 state ranking intact as it heads to the state championships.
After coming away with a 2-1 victory over a No. 9 Lassen a week ago and a 1-0 double overtime triumph over No. 13 Cabrillo on Saturday in the northern California finals, the Cougars have a hefty challenge when the championships open Friday afternoon.
Taft is the No. 1 north seed and will play the No. 2 south seed and three-time defending state champ Mt. San Antonio College – at Mt. San Antonio. That's because Mt. SAC was previously chosen as the site for the championships.
"Playing them is always a challenge, and playing them on their field is even tougher," said Cougar head coach Angelo Cutrona, "but this is the final four and all the records, all the statistics go out the window."
The other pairing pits No. 1 south Golden West College (18-1-3) against No. 2 north City College of San Francisco (18-0-4). The survivors will meet Sunday at 10 a.m. to see who gets to wear the state crown.
Both of Friday's semi-finals begin at 4 p.m. at Mt. SAC's soccer complex.
Taft (17-0-5) and Mt. SAC (19-3-1) are the only teams in the final four that have been to the winner's circle.
The Cougars are 1-3-1 against Mt. SAC all-time – beating them on penalty kicks in the 2007 semi-finals en route to TC's only state title. The Mounties edged the Cougars 2-1 in the championship three years ago, the first of three titles in a row.
Barraza comes through
Freshman forward Ramiro Barraza – the third leading scorer in the state – kicked in all three Cougar goals last week.
After Lassen midfielder Krishan Patel drilled a crossing pass into the left corner of the goal in the eighth minute to give the team from Susanville an early lead, Barraza took a pass from Andy Reyes in the 43rd minute to tie it and scored the game-winner minutes later on a header off a pass from Edgar Plascensia.
After upstart Cabrillo – the 13th seed who defeated No. 4 Santa Rosa and No. 5 Fresno – played the Cougars even through 90 minutes of regulation and the first of two 15-minute overtimes, Barraza was in the right place at the right time.
Just over nine minutes into the second overtime, Barraza was rushing the goal from the right side as Roberto Mariscal attacked from the center and drilled a shot at the Seahawk net.
Sophomore goalkeeper Cesar Rocha managed to deflect the shot and Barraza kicked it into the back of the net for the game's only goal as Rocha had not chance to react.
Page 2 of 2 - From there the defense just had to continue to keep Cabrillo's offense in check.
Shutout for Gonzalez
The Seahawks had one serious shot on goal at 11:52 on a hard crossing shot, but keeper Roberto Gonzalez snagged it.
It was his third save of the game. He had five against Lassen after allowing that early goal on Patel's laser shot.
Gonzalez, a Taft High product, is ranked fifth among the state's goalkeepers.
The Lassen game had an ugly ending.
Shortly after the final whistle, a Lassen player attacked a Taft player, touching off a melee that involved a lot of shoving and a few thrown punches.
There had been words exchanged between Taft's mostly Kern County players and Lassen's mostly foreign players. The team from Susanville had but four Americans with the remainder of the roster players from England, Australia, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Brazil, Spain and Israel.
Head coach Benjamin Wade lashed out at Cutrona in a threatening manner and another member of the Lassen staff could be heard screaming epithets aimed at the Cougars.