Boys' Soccer: Eagles denied title shot

Fans began to chant, "Si se puede!" and the Estancia High boys' soccer team never lost hope. The Eagles trailed by one late in the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoffs and they kept fighting.

Time was running out on the Eagles against Baldwin Park on Tuesday. Their coach, Robert Castellano, raced to the fence to track down a ball with 5 minutes left, trying to save time to give the Eagles another chance to tie the match. He then turned to the home crowd, the biggest to see his team play during his five seasons in charge. He raised his arms, pleading for more noise.

The chants grew louder. Fans came out to support the program's best run in 14 seasons. The last time the Eagles made it this far, the man standing next to Castellano on the sideline led the school to this stage.

Steve Crenshaw coached Castellano at Estancia, and there he was, at the side of his former player. Another former Estancia coach, Gannon Burks, sat on the bench. Castellano used to coach under Burks. Without Burks, Castellano always says he wouldn't be in the position he's in: leading his alma mater.

Castellano wanted to guide the Eagles back to the top. That last goal never came.

They tried to generate it in the final 10 minutes, off deep throw-ins, set pieces, on long blasts. None resulted in a goal. The Eagles' season ended in a 2-1 loss at Jim Scott Stadium, and Baldwin Park's continued.

"We tried to throw everything we [could at them]," Castellano said. "I always thought [the equalizer] was going to come."

The Eagles (16-6-5) came up short of making their first section finals appearance since the 1999-2000 season, when they last won it all. Baldwin Park (20-4-1) returns to the final for the second time in four seasons.

The Braves have a chance to claim a second section title because of Andy Castillo's goal in the 62nd minute broke a 1-1 tie. The shot came from outside the box, from the right, a bullet that found the inside part of the near post.

Goalkeeper Enrique Valle never saw the low, line drive coming. His own defense obstructed his view. By the time Valle did see it, Castillo's ball found the back of the net.

"That's a tough shot to block, nothing you can do about that," Castellano said.

The rest of the way, the Eagles created most of the chances. They went at the Braves and their keeper, Alfredo Guerra, who Coach Ricardo Mira said played with an injured knee. Guerra, who usually starts, replaced Joshua Luna at halftime.

The only time Estancia scored on Baldwin Park was in the first half, against Luna. Abarham Cortez, as he has throughout the postseason, produced the goal for the Eagles, tying the match at 1-1 in the 25th minute.

The goal was Cortez's fourth in five playoff matches. Cortez turned it on after only scoring three goals in the regular season. The senior midfielder almost had his fifth goal in the playoffs. In the 70th minute, he blasted the ball from 30 yards out, only to see it strike the far post.

Two minutes later, on a set piece from 43 yards out, Estancia appeared to be in business.

Christian Monroy, a junior defender, delivered a nice ball deep into the box, but Guerra knocked the ball out of danger.

The Eagles kept coming. On a throw-in, Chris Moya gained control of the ball and sent a shot toward the goal. The sophomore had come through for the Eagles on Thursday by scoring three goals in their 5-2 win at Los Angeles Windward in the quarterfinals. Guerra denied Moya in the 76th minute.

With time running out and the Eagles looking to make the most of any opportunity, Baldwin Park defender Diego Aguirre tried to waste time. He grabbed the ball, which the Braves knocked out of play, and kept it from Estancia. The referee gave Aguirre a yellow card, as well as Estancia defender Ivan Morales for taking the ball away from Aguirre.

Morales walked off. He started at center back because senior Carlos Herrera missed his second straight match with a sprained ankle. Seaver Sanchez took the throw-in for Estancia and he found Kevin Pizarro, whom the Braves slowed down throughout the night. They knocked the forward around whenever possible.

Pizarro tried to give someone else a chance to tie it. The sophomore flicked the ball toward the far post, where Guerra hit the ball out.

The Eagles got one last chance, off another throw-in, near the corner. Monroy launched the ball toward the box, and when it came out, the ref blew the whistle. The Eagles' run was over, as Baldwin Park moved on to face Pasadena Marshall (22-2-0) in the final on Friday or Saturday.

The path to the semifinals had been a long one for Estancia, the third-place team from the Orange Coast League. The team began the postseason in the wild-card round and Estancia gave Baldwin Park, the Valle Vista League champion, all it could handle.

"We were holding on for dear life," said Danny Vega, whose goal in the fourth minute gave the senior a Baldwin Park-best 39 goals on the season. "It was a great game.

"They were [in control] for a bit, but, you know, we stuck it out and we grinded it out. I think we really deserved this victory."

Win or lose, Castellano will take his side anytime.

"This is the best team I've ever coached in my life," said Castellano, who's 33 years old. "[My players] got so much heart and so much fire. Mentally, they're so tough, they're so disciplined, and they're so organized.

"[The loss] stings a little bit. It hasn't really set in right now. I kind of feel like we're going to practice tomorrow. I feel bad more for the seniors than for myself."

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