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St. Francis soccer survives wild end in league draw with Crespi

ENCINO — At one end of the field, a St. Francis free-kick sneaks beneath the Crespi wall of defenders and is saved by the corner post, only for the rebound to get crossed back in and pulled back for an offside call.

A minute later, the Celts nearly tuck their free kick in underneath the top post, only for Golden Knights 6-foot-6-inch goalkeeper Luis Granados to tip it aside.

The second half of a Mission League soccer match between St. Francis and Crespi on Wednesday was far from lackluster, but the two sides were unable to find any separation and settled with a 1-1 draw at Crespi.

“Well, it didn’t lack for excitement, right?” St. Francis coach Glen Appels said.

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As Appels attempted to calm his team in the second half after a frantic first half, the visitors couldn’t fend off a roaring Celts side that had a 53rd minute shot bounce off the top post.

“It’s always the way it goes here,” Appels said. “The fans are excited, the coaches are energetic and they play a fast-paced game, so the idea we need is to show composure in those moments in between the scrambles.

“I thought Luis did a tremendous job for us. He got a hand on two that were on the way in with one that he hit off the crossbar, so he was huge for us today.”

Then, in the 56th minute, St. Francis handled the ball inside the Crespi penalty area to set up junior captain Nick Garcia at the spot kick.

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The defender couldn’t beat the post and saw his chance cleared, only for St. Francis to take advantage on the counter, where sophomore Jose Cervantes gave the Golden Knights a 1-0 lead off of a one-touch strike on the volley.

“I think just getting it down the line and passing the ball back and forth -- just connecting the ball more -- helped a lot,” said Cervantes on the Golden Knights’ second-half tempo. “After the goal, we just went into more of a defensive mode. Once they scored their tying one, we went back to high intensity. Overall, it was a pretty good game. Wanted the win, but you can’t have everything.”

The Golden Knights (7-6-3 overall, 2-2-2 in league) had a chance to double their lead two minutes later, but senior Ryan Pearson saw his shot saved by Crespi goalkeeper Matt Lepire.

In the 67th minute, the Celts earned another penalty shot after Golden Knights defender Samir Sheikh brought down Dan Law iin the box.

“The referee’s close, he made the call, so I had to trust his word on it,’ Appels said. “He’s a good ref, so I just think we have to be smarter when committing fouls. The hand ball took a weird spin, so I think it was more unlucky than anything else, but we have to be smarter to give a guy a chance to get a penalty [shot].”

Granados, who finished with 11 saves, was able to get a hand on freshman Sam Tspina’s penalty shot, but the ball ended up in the back of the net for tying goal.

The Golden Knights earned a free kick right at the edge of the box in the 75th minute that senior Alex Jordan tucked underneath the wall, but Lepire made the save. St. Francis nearly capitalized on the clearance, but was called offside on the rebound cross.

Crespi (5-6-5, 2-1-3) had a chance to go ahead in the 76th minute off a free kick from Garcia, but Granados was able to tip the ball to bounce off the crossbar.

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“This league is typically decided by set pieces and especially when you play a team coached by Glen, they are as determined as it gets and they are going to defend every inch that they have,” Crespi coach Andrew Wright said. “We knew it was going to be decided in there.”

Two minutes later, the Golden Knights had a chance with an open net at the corner of the penalty area, but saw their shot blocked at the goal line by a Crespi defender.

The first half was not reflective of the second half.

Though St. Francis was able to disrupt the Crespi tempo in the opening 10 minutes, the latter 30 minutes saw more control from the Celts after the introduction of sophomore winger Keegan Walwyn-Bent and junior winger Niko Balbin in the eighth minute.

“We purposely kept some of our speedier, younger players out,’ Wright said. “Whenever we play St. Francis, it’s always very physical and I kind of wanted to show them a different front to start. I had two seniors in there just to see how they were going to deal with our wingers, and then I decided to make the move. Then in the second half, I ended up starting those guys and we just stayed up with it.”

The Golden Knights mustered their first shot in the 35th minute outside the box from Ian Odermatt.

The Celts posted five shots on goal in the first half, compared to two by the Golden Knights.

vincent.nguyen@latimes.com

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Twitter: @ReporterVince


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