NEWPORT COAST — Coach Ignacio Cid stood to the side while the Sage Hill School boys' soccer team sat on the grass. The first-year coach waited five minutes before he talked to his players.
Coming up with the right words Wednesday after Sage Hill saw its season end in the 78th minute was not easy. Cid and the Lightning expected the wild-card match in the CIF Southern Section Division VI playoffs to go into overtime.
Victor Avalos changed those plans. The senior scored the game-winner, lifting Citrus Hill of Perris to a 2-1 victory at Sage Hill.
Ryan Fishel tried to slide in and kick the ball out before it crossed the goal line. The ball was on its way to knocking the Lightning out of any chance of advancing to the Friday's first-round match at Rosamond.
"Let's help each other up," said Cid, breaking the silence as he gave Jack Percival a hand and then addressed the team. "You always remember your first team."
Cid reminded the Lightning that they only lost six times this season. The latest setback, coming against an at-large entry into the postseason, was much harder to deal with for the players, especially seniors like Taylor Ross.
Sage Hill (9-6-3) stood a strong chance of advancing to the next round.
The Hawks (11-5-4), a fourth-place team from the Mountain Pass League, prevented that in the waning minutes. They earned three corner kicks, coming oh so close each time to taking the lead.
Sage Hill goalkeeper Adam Ellinson kept brushing Citrus Hill back. The final scoring chance, Ellinson stood no chance at stopping Avalos.
"We had our chances, too. We had a couple of looks right there at the end," Cid said. "It could've gone either way. Both teams had a hard fight. It was one of those games that both teams had their chances and it was who was going to make the best of the one chance [at the end]."
In the beginning, the match's first goal appeared to belong to the Hawks. They briefly celebrated after Sergio Camacho found the back of the net midway through the first half.
The goal did not count after one of the sideline referees ruled Citrus Hill offside.
The Hawks immediately went back to work, creating a couple of more scoring chances. Each shot sailed over the crossbar, and then the Lightning began to make runs.
Percival slipped past defenders twice, only to have the left post and then goalkeeper Sergio Paz stop him from scoring. Percival did not quit.
On Sage Hill's next scoring chance, Percival was not the player dribbling the ball in the attacking zone. Kavi Sakraney made a move to the right before shaking off a defender inside the box. With Sakraney all alone with the keeper, he quickly gave Percival another shot at scoring.
Sakraney sent a pass to his left and found Percival a yard or two off the goal line. Paz was out of position, giving Percival a wide-open look. A defender tried to block Percival's shot, only to have it deflect off his body and Percival finished the play. The Lightning went ahead, 1-0, in the 21st minute.
The advantage lasted for just six minutes.
The Hawks looked determined to even the match. Avalos blasted a shot that hit the crossbar and the rebound went right to Devin Almazan's head. Almazan headed the ball in for a goal.
Citrus Hill was not satisfied. During the final minutes in the first half, the Hawks earned a corner kick. Luis Rocha hooked up with Camacho in the box and the junior struck the ball toward the left post, looking like another sure goal by Camacho.
This time, it was not a referee denying Camacho, but Sage Hill defender Eric Cheng.
Cheng got a foot on the shot, making sure the Lightning went into halftime with the Hawks tied, 1-1. The two sides were even for the next 36 minutes, until the last two minutes. Sage Hill's run in the playoffs ended much earlier than in the past two seasons, when the Lightning reached the quarterfinals.