With the coastal chill, it took a half hour for the Sage Hill School boys’ soccer to heat up. Aiden Arvizu and Robert Gerschultz broke the ice.
Arvizu and Gerschultz each scored a goal to lead the Lightning to a 4-1 home victory Tuesday night over Long Beach St. Anthony in the wild-card round of the CIF Southern Section Division 6 playoffs.
Sage Hill (5-7) advances to the first round to play at No. 3-seeded Cerritos Valley Christian (13-3-2) on Thursday at 5 p.m.
Sage Hill and St. Anthony (13-8-4) felt each other out in the first 10 minutes. Lightning midfielder Jonathan Lake first threatened with a shot sent wide left. After a foul, Gerschultz placed a set kick in the high left corner, only for Saints sophomore keeper Victor Lopez to swat it away.
On the other end, the visitors were unable to connect on crosses due to an active Lightning backline. St. Anthony failed to put a shot on goal in the first 48 minutes.
“Our center backs have been the most consistent throughout the season,” Sage Hill coach Joe Franco said. “The boys came out flying, pumped up for a playoff game.”
First-year Saints coach Matt Dold said his team’s offensive woes had to do with multiple players missing from the lineup.
“We’re banged up right now,” he said. “We’re missing five, six starters, so that doesn’t help. We knew coming into this game it was going to be tough for us to play against a good team like Sage Hill.”
Arvizu, a junior forward, corralled a high-arching pass in the 29th minute, dribbled once and blasted a strike past Lopez to open scoring.
The Lightning offense applied the pressure for the rest of the first half. Minutes later, Lopez had to slide tackle junior forward Emir Karabeg to prevent a score. In the 38th minute, Gerschultz snuck a shot under Lopez’s right arm for a 2-0 Sage Hill advantage.
Franco, a former Major League Soccer player for the L.A. Galaxy, praised Arvizu’s control with some tough passes.
“During the week, we worked on that,” he said, adding that the rest of the offense excelled at “breaking lines, using the width [of the pitch] and playing quickly.”
Down two goals, the cold reception continued for the Saints as spitting rain rolled overhead during the break.
They nearly broke through in the 48th minute. Junior midfielder Lucas Picarelli collected a deflection right in front of the Sage Hill net, but missed at point-blank range.
The hosts regained momentum after junior Omeed Abedi won the ball on a scrum in the St. Anthony box. He proceeded to muscle a shot past Lopez for a 3-0 lead in the 62nd minute.
St. Anthony responded. Picarelli converted on the counterattack to cut the lead to 3-1. Sage Hill slammed the door shut on a late comeback after sophomore Kolby Parrott tacked on another goal for the final margin.
The Lightning have won five of their last eight matches after four straight losses to open the season. The slow start to the season, and of this wild-card match, are now distant memories.
“We had a little bit of a different starting lineup [tonight],” Franco said. “The whole season, we haven’t had the same consistent starting lineup due to injuries, sickness, whatever it was.