Sage holding on to hope

NEWPORT COAST — St. Margaret's Coach Mike Mercer said the boys' soccer match at Sage Hill School Tuesday did not really mean much for the Tartans.

It was definitely a big deal for the Lightning. They needed to win to help their CIF Southern Section Division VI playoff hopes.

Sage Hill's rival did not need a victory as the Tartans had already clinched the Academy League title, making them playoff bound. St. Margaret's still continued its dominance in league play.

The Tartans shut out Sage Hill, 2-0, to remain unbeaten in league. As St. Margaret's (15-6-2, 8-0-1 in league) celebrated, some of Sage Hill's players fell on the ground after the referee whistled the match over.

Coach Rodrigo Cid went to pick up his players. He is hoping they can rise up one more time.

The Lightning (4-3-2 in league) must win their regular-season finale Thursday at Brethren Christian to have any shot at making the postseason.

"Our destiny is in our hands," said Cid, who is in his first season in charge at Sage Hill. "We need to take care of business on Thursday."

Sage Hill also needs some help come Thursday.

Cid said the Lightning are in fourth place in league with 14 points, trailing Whitney and Oxford Academy, which have 17 and 16 points, respectively.

Only the league's top three programs receive automatic playoff berths.

Whitney and Oxford Academy close out league play against each other. The match is at Whitney, a site Cid hopes benefits Whitney.

"As long as Oxford doesn't win," Cid said Sage Hill earns the league's No. 3 playoff berth, but the Lightning must beat Brethren Christian to earn three points for the win, which would give Sage Hill 17 points, one more than Oxford Academy.

Sage Hill has done it before, defeating Brethren Christian, 2-0, last month.

"They're going to make it very difficult to score goals," Cid said.

Sage Hill found it hard to find the back of the net against the Tartans for the second time this season.

St. Margaret's has allowed the Lightning just one goal in two matches. Goalkeeper Devin Dreyer turned in a strong performance for the Tartans.

After a scoreless first half, the two sides waited awhile before they returned to the field. Cid grabbed a microphone and talked to the crowd about the five seniors on his team.

The match might be the last one at home for the seniors. Two players Cid praised were Colton Gyulay and Taylor Ross.

The two almost paid their coach back by teaming up for a scoring opportunity four minutes into the second half. Gyulay sent a cross from the left side to Ross deep in the box. The ball got behind Dreyer and it bounced toward the goal before Dreyer quickly crawled back to secure the loose ball.

Two minutes later, Johnny Li created St. Margaret's best scoring chance. The Lightning took Li down in the box, and the referee issued the Tartans a penalty kick.

Colin Shaffer, a defender, lined up to take the PK. Someone in the crowd teased Shaffer because he wore a white headband. Shaffer ignored the comment and beat keeper Adam Ellinson with a shot to the right, giving the Tartans a 1-0 lead in the 47th minute.

Ellinson, starting for an injured Mason Weinstein (elbow), kept Sage Hill in the match. He leaped into traffic a couple of times, taking the brunt of the collisions with St. Margaret's players.

The Lightning began to make some runs. The best one came in the 67th minute, when Jack Percival, all alone, dribbled in from the right. He blasted a shot toward the right post, but it sailed over the crossbar. Then it was Ross misfiring to the right.

After Sage Hill pushed forward, the Tartans made the host pay. They counterattacked and David Field sent a cross to the left to Li, who scored on a beautiful volley.

With St. Margaret's taking a 2-0 lead in the 78th minute, Cid knew the Lightning stood no chance at overcoming the deficit. Cid also understands that the season is not over yet.

He reminded his players of the ultimate goal.

"We definitely want to go to CIF," Cid said.

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