Lady Gauchos fall to Santiago College in SoCal regional playoffs

Freshman Samantha Belmonte uses her left foot to send a pass upfield. (Ally Beckwit/Lariat)

Freshman Samantha Belmonte uses her left foot to send a pass upfield. (Ally Beckwit/Lariat)

The Saddleback College women’s soccer team was defeated by Santiago Community College 3-0 on Saturday in the first round of the Southern California Regional Playoffs at Santiago College.

The Gauchos were given the 11th seed headed into the playoffs, while Santiago was seeded sixth.  

The game was played fairly tight and physical, both sides were able to produce stretches where they dictated the tempo, physicality and flow of the game.

The two sides are no strangers, having met twice already this season. Santiago got the best of the Gauchos in both those meetings, winning each game 2-0 in closely contested battles.

Both teams were evenly matched in the first half, as there were no clear scoring chances produced by either side. The game looked to be headed towards a scoreless first half, until Saddleback gave away an indirect free kick inside the box due to an illegal touching violation in the 43rd minute.

The mistake happened when the ball was played into Saddleback’s box and in the middle of a fight for the ball, a Saddleback player panicked while trying to clear the ball and passed it back from close range to goalkeeper Dz-Rae Jara dove who was already mid-dive in an attempt to secure the ball, resulting in the penalty. Ofelia Sosa of Santiago put the ball in the top corner from around the penalty spot, giving Santiago the lead going into halftime.

“I feel like if we had gone into the second half 0-0 instead of 1-0 it would’ve been a very different game,” said sophomore  midfielder Jessica Kron. “We just made little mistakes and the other team capitalized on them, I wish we could’ve done the same.”

The second half was played much like the first, a lot of physical battles for the ball both in the air and on the ground. The attacking players for Saddleback had a tough time putting a solid move together due to Santiago’s defensive organization and a combination of missed passes or heavy touches.

As the game drew closer to the end, Saddleback had to force the play in an effort to try and equalize, which left their defense vulnerable. Santiago added a second goal in the 78th minute thanks to a header from freshman defender Madison Simmons, before forward Cassie Soto added the dagger in the 87th minute off a lightning quick counter attack.

“We were up against a good team that won the conference again, you can’t make mistakes against them and expect to do well, and unfortunately we made the first mistake,” said Head Coach BJ McNicol. “I thought overall, we played okay we just maybe weren’t as complete as we could’ve been. I was proud of the way they competed, I thought everybody left everything out there.”

“I feel we worked super hard despite not getting the result we wanted,” Kron said. “We all wanted this win very badly and it’s sad we couldn’t come up with the result we wanted.”

The Gauchos finished in fifth place in the conference after going on a 5-1-3 run in their last nine games to finish the regular season. Speaking on their season as a whole, McNicol said, “There were some ups and downs but we found a way to dig deep, and we found different ways to win games, our defense was outstanding,” McNicol said, “We have a lot of these kids back to build on. It was great the way they bounced back.”

Saddleback finished the regular season with an overall record of 10 wins, five draws and five losses (10-5-5).