St. Francis takes down No. 1

LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — Redemption arrived in the nick of time for the St. Francis High soccer team Friday night.
Or, as St. Francis Coach Glen Appels put it following the Golden Knights’ 3-2 win over Santa Barbara at Friedman Field, “It went from a devastating tie to an elating win in just about 30 seconds.”
Under any other circumstances, settling for a draw against the No. 1 team in CIF Southern Section Division I would hardly be classified as devastating. But when the Dons (0-2) tied the match with four minutes left to seemingly negate the previous 75 minutes of stellar defense, as well as two splendid first-half goals by Mark Verso, it seemed too bitter a pill to swallow gracefully.
Fortunately for the Golden Knights (1-1), Verso wasn’t done yet.
Well inside the final two minutes of the match, St. Francis’ Thomas Banks’ shot attempt was pinballed around in the goal box and deflected out to present St. Francis with a corner-kick opportunity.
Derek Bell hung a perfectly-placed ball just a few feet outside the near post where Verso finished the play with a no-look header into the upper corner.
“It was just a great ball,” Verso said. “The ball went to exactly the right spot, it was just how we planned it.”
Verso, who now has all four of St. Francis’ goals this season, helped the Golden Knights retake control of the match all in one short span of the first half after Alexis Carmona gave Santa Barbara an immediate 1-0 edge in the very first minute.
Banks played a ball up to Verso on the run up the middle in the 14th minute and the sophomore forward promptly buried an equalizer in the far left side of the goal.
Less than four minutes later, it was Verso stopping on a dime near the left sideline and hooking a shot from 35 yards out neatly inside the right post.
From there, the Golden Knights’ defense, keyed by Sean Fitzpatrick, Ian Sternau, Walker Fitch and Tim Nguyen, took over.
Over the first 35 minutes of the second half, Santa Barbara effectively controlled possession and outshot St. Francis, 7-2. But the Dons remained frustrated amid a lack of quality opportunities.
That changed quickly in the 76th minute when Santa Barbara’s Sanford Spivey was inexplicably left unmarked in the middle of the goal box, leading to an easy goal off a header for the senior midfielder and captain.
“Our struggle has been not taking care of the guys we need to,” said Appels, whose team was burned by Crescenta Valley’s Pavle Atanackovic for three goals in a 3-1 loss on Tuesday. “We’re just happy. The resiliency was huge for us. It would have been easy for our guys to just hang their head and hope for a tie.”

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