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BOYS’ SOCCER PLAYOFFS : Santa Margarita Going One Step Beyond

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mario Cuevas had a simple three-year plan for the Santa Margarita High School boys’ soccer team.

--Step One: Finish with a better-than-.500 record.

--Step Two: Make the Southern Section playoffs.

--Step Three: Win a league title.

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Problem is, the Eagles might be one step ahead of their coach.

Santa Margarita is a mere victory away from reaching the 4-A final. The Eagles (18-6-1) play at Beverly Hills (17-6-2) at 3 p.m. today.

By winning, they would become the first team from the school to play in a Southern Section final.

“We were not supposed to be where we’re at right now,” said Cuevas, who is in his third year as the Eagles’ coach. “I feel like Cinderella.”

Santa Margarita’s program has made a rapid climb under Cuevas. Two years ago, the Eagles finished 12-9 in his first year. Last season, they finished third in the Olympic League, but lost in the first round of the Small Schools playoffs.

That left only one of Cuevas’ goals to accomplish.

“I wanted to win league the third year, but then we got thrown a curve,” Cuevas said. “They moved us to the Angelus League.”

The Angelus League has long been dominated by Mater Dei. However, despite losing twice to the Monarchs, the Eagles managed to win the league with a 7-3 record.

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They were later awarded two more victories, as Mater Dei had to forfeit 19 games.

Santa Margarita has achieved success through balance. The team’s leading scorer is Jerome Pierce with seven goals. Three other players--Scott Carter, Oscar Mestre and Tim Markel--have scored six goals.

The defense is led by Jeff Harris, the only senior in the starting lineup. Sophomore goalie Matt Reese has performed well and has eight shutouts.

The Eagles gained momentum throughout the season. After a 7-5-1 nonleague record, they are 9-3 without the forfeits.

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In the playoffs, they have beaten Fountain Valley, 1-0, and Claremont, 2-1, in overtime.

“We’re very inexperienced, but maybe that’s helped,” Cuevas said. “We’re too young to know we’re suppose to be intimidated.”

In the other 4-A semifinal:

Santa Ana (19-6-2) at Simi Valley (22-2-1)--The Saints, seeded fourth, have played well since the return of Gus Plesencia, who has 22 goals in 17 games. Simi Valley, the top-seeded team, is led by Brian Weaver, who has set a school record with 22 assists this season.

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In a 2-A semifinal:

El Dorado (15-9-2) at St. Paul (16-5-2)--The Hawks are coming off a 2-1 overtime victory over third-seeded Coachella Valley. Goalie Blayne Leitner, a sophomore, made 15 and 17 saves in the two playoff victories last week.

In the 1-A semifinals:

Centennial (17-4-3) at Saddleback (17-2-6)--The Roadrunners, the Sea View League champions, are fresh off a 2-1 overtime victory against fourth-seeded Walnut. Senior goalie Victor Solis, who has eight shutouts, has played well in the playoffs for Saddleback. Centennial is led by Rudy Tavares and Edgar Meza.

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Corona del Mar (17-6-1) at Newport Harbor (15-4-7)--Newport Harbor finished third in the Sea View League, but has rolled through the playoffs. Goalies Mike Hancock and Josh Klein have allowed only one goal in postseason play. The league-rival Sea Kings are led by Jason Boyce (nine goals), Scott Owen (eight) and Justin Pierce (eight).


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