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Royal Fends Off Simi Valley for Soccer Title

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Speed, ball control and the ability to absorb punishment allowed the Royal High boys’ soccer team to defeat Simi Valley, 2-0, and earn its fourth consecutive Marmonte League championship Saturday at Simi Valley.

The Highlanders endured rough and often excessively physical play by the Pioneers, but rode to victory on a pair of goals by Jesse Garner. Royal (16-4-2) finished a rain-shortened league schedule at 6-1 and earned a berth in the Southern Section Division I playoffs, beginning Feb. 17.

The loss was the first for Simi Valley (9-1-4, 3-1-4).

“The plain and simple fact is that we’re a better team,” said Royal Coach Kevin Corley, who has won a title in each of his four seasons. “Their strategy was to hack us, plain and simple. That’s what they do, but today it didn’t work.”

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Simi Valley’s style of play did produce a scoreless first half, however. The Pioneers chased after balls and bowled over opponents like candle pins. In all, Simi Valley received seven yellow card warnings, including two on hulking fullback Andrew Trujillo, which earned him an automatic ejection.

“It was difficult to play when you kept ending up on the ground,” said Royal forward Kendall Simmonds, who had his uniform collar torn off. “But they were trying to counterattack really hard and they seemed sluggish in the second half. We capitalized on that.”

Royal created opportunities by relying on midfielders Tim Pederson and Chris Fernandez to distribute the ball to Caleb Westbay and Chris Tosh on the wings. Simi Valley tried to counter with the rabbit-quick moves of midfielder Fonzie Ruiz and the scoring touch of striker John Gonzalez. However, Royal goalie Ty Russell had to make only four saves.

The Highlanders’ first goal came 12 minutes into the second half when Pederson spied Garner running past a defender on the left side of the penalty area and led him with a pass. As Simi Valley goalie Michael Morris began to charge out, Garner used his left foot to one-touch the ball past Morris and into the right corner of the net.

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“The outside fullback didn’t notice me and Tim gave me a perfect ball,” Garner said of Pederson, whose assist on the play was the 30th of his career, a team record.

“We’ve worked with (Garner) on just shooting the ball on the first touch,” said Corley, whose team is ranked third in Division I in the latest Southern California High School Soccer Coaches’ Assn. poll. “The first nine games of the season we played him on defense, but he’s our fastest player and the most tenacious, and we needed some offensive punch.”

With 10 minutes to play, Garner sealed the victory when he collected a crossing pass from Westbay and fought off a Pioneer defender before drilling the ball past Morris.


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