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New Philosophy Rings True for Santa Ana : Boys’ soccer: Defense helped Saints beat Simi Valley. They play for Division 4-A title tonight against Beverly Hills.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Imagine Nevada Las Vegas’ basketball team using a four-corner offense, instead of running its relentless fast breaks that end with acrobatic dunks.

That’s similar to what the Santa Ana boys’ soccer team (20-6-2) did Tuesday night, changing its basic philosophy in a 1-0, semifinal victory over Simi Valley to reach tonight’s Southern Section Division 4-A championship game against Beverly Hills (18-6-2) at 8 p.m. at Gahr High School in Cerritos.

The change in strategy shows how far Santa Ana Coach Sam Buenrostro will go to protect his goalie, Armando Guillen.

Buenrostro has sheltered Guillen for the past year, and still speaks cautiously about his player who, he says, always has had the body and ability to play goalie, but not the mind.

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Buenrostro nurtured Guillen through summer league and the regular season, and now Guillen is playing his best soccer in the playoffs.

Against Simi Valley (22-3-1), Santa Ana shelved its high-powered offense led by senior Gus Plasencia (23 goals and 14 assists), because Buenrostro wanted his team to concentrate on defense to help Guillen. Simi Valley blew out the Saints, 4-1, a year ago.

“It’s very rare to find a team that can change its basic approach and still win,” Buenrostro said. “But we didn’t have a choice against Simi Valley.

“It was our only chance to win--playing defensively,” he said. “If we would have opened up offensively, against a team that talented, they would have really exploited our weaknesses.”

At the beginning of the season, Guillen was one of those weaknesses. But against Simi Valley, Guillen answered the challenge with 10 saves in what Buenrostro called an errorless performance.

“It was definitely the greatest game I have played,” Guillen said.

Although Plasencia stole a pass from the Simi Valley goalkeeper to the sweeper and then scored the game’s only goal, Buenrostro knew where Santa Ana had the Pioneers beat.

“Armando was the key (Tuesday) night,” Buenrostro said. “Each time he stopped a shot, he got more confidence. I felt even if the game came down to penalty kicks, we would still win.”

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This new confidence sounds strange, especially considering that Buenrostro once called his goalie “the biggest question mark.” Guillen admitted he played scared.

“I didn’t want to get hurt and I had doubts about going out of the box to challenge for the ball,” Guillen said. “That part of my game has improved as the season went on, and a lot of that credit goes to Frank Rea.”

Rea and Gilbert Vasquez, assistant coaches who played goalie for the Saints from 1983-87, worked with Guillen throughout the year, Buenrostro said.

Santa Ana lost its projected starting goalie for this season, Hector Ramos, a second-team All-Century League selection last year, when he moved to Mexico.

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So Guillen, the team’s only senior besides Plasencia, got the starting role last summer. He gained valuable experience as the Saints won the Southern California Summer League Championship, defeating top Orange County teams including Orange, Mission Viejo, Mater Dei and Katella.

Buenrostro said that after winning the summer league title, he knew his team would contend for the CIF championship.

“But (goalie) was the one area I worried about most,” Buenrostro said. “Armando’s had the ability to play goalie all along. Just look at him; he’s 6 feet 2, strong, with good reflexes.

“His problems were all mental. He just needed experience and confidence,” Buenrostro said.

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That confidence arrived after Guillen preserved a 1-1 tie with Ocean View during the second round of Sunset League play by stopping a penalty kick with five minutes remaining in regulation. The teams remained tied after two 10-minute overtimes, and that tie proved crucial in the Saints’ drive for the league title.

“I don’t remember Armando ever stopping a penalty kick before that one,” Buenrostro said.

“When I stopped that penalty kick, it definitely gave me more confidence,” Guillen said. “After that, I started thinking different, more positive.”

It has produced positive results for Guillen, who has posted 10 shutouts this season, allowing 19 goals in 21 games for a goals-against average of .91.

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Since the Ocean View game, Guillen is 4-0, despite playing with a bruised right hand he suffered while helping his father fix an antenna on their roof. The injury forced him to miss Santa Ana’s final three league games.

In the three games without Guillen, the Saints were still able to clinch the league championship, their third consecutive league title after winning the Century League in 1989 and ’90, but allowed five goals in those games.

Guillen returned for the playoffs, and his toughness showed in a first-round, 3-1 victory over Don Lugo.

While challenging a Don Lugo forward in the penalty area, Guillen stopped the shot but was kicked in the face, forcing him to leave with a bloodied nose that Buenrostro thought was broken.

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Guillen’s nose wasn’t broken, and his hand is about 90% healed, he said. So Guillen is feeling confident about Santa Ana’s chances tonight, and so is his coach.


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