Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy awaits Laguna Hills in first round

Over the past few seasons, the Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy soccer program has learned all too well of the trials and tribulations that come with venturing south to face off with Orange County foes that make up the majority of CIF Southern Section Division I soccer.

Last season, the Tologs lost in the opening round of the playoffs after a trip down south. This time around, Flintridge Sacred Heart will welcome an Orange County foe to the Tologs’ confines of Occidental College and the home team is plenty happy about the situation.

“I think we are [happy about our draw], especially playing at our field,” said Tologs Coach Cesar Hidalgo, whose team will host Laguna Hills on Thursday in the first round of Division I play at Occidental College. “We know we can have a good performance against anyone on our field.”

Along with Sacred Heart, Flintridge Prep will also host a first-round playoff game after finishing second in the Prep League, while La Cañada has a very long trip for a wild-card match, as the Tologs, Rebels and Spartans learned their playoff fates on Monday when the CIF offices unveiled playoff pairings.

La Cañada will travel to play Nipomo on Tuesday in a wild-card matchup, while Flintridge Prep welcomes Burroughs on Thursday in the first round. All games are scheduled for 5 p.m. unless a change is agreed upon.

The Tologs have already stated their game will be at 3:30 p.m. at Occidental.

Sacred Heart closed the season going unbeaten over its last six matches with a 5-0-1 mark, as its final game was a scoreless tie against Chaminade — the result coming after a Tologs goal was overturned and preventing Sacred Heart from sharing the Mission League title. Nonetheless, Hidalgo believes his team has found its stride.

“I believe we have recognized that we have a system that works for us,” Hidalgo said. “We seem to have gone in a good uptrend. I believe that having done that is going to be good for us going into CIF.”

The Tologs, who won a Division I championship in 2011 before last year’s first-round overtime loss at Capistrano Valley, which is this year’s top seed, enter the playoffs as the second place entrant from their league with a 15-1-4 overall record. Laguna Hills, having finished third in a Sea View League won by Capistrano Valley, sports a 5-10-7 record. It’s consequently the worst record in the Division I draw and Laguna is one of just two teams with a losing record in the draw.

If the Tologs move on, they will face either Century League champion Villa Park, the No. 4 seed, or JSerra, a Trinity League at-large entrant.

Like the Tologs, Flintridge Prep is hoping to emerge from the first round after failing to do so last season.

Prep (12-2-6), which finished second in the Prep League, will host a Burroughs team that took third in the Pacific League and boasts a 13-9-1 overall mark.

Should the Rebels prevail on Thursday, they would advance to the following week’s second round to face Diamond Bar, the Hacienda League champion, or Western, an Empire League at-large team.

The Spartans (11-4-3; third in the Rio Hondo League) have the unenviable task of traveling north to play Nipomo (11-9-3), the third-place finisher in the Los Padres League.

“It’s a four-hour bus ride, three by car. Somebody has to go up there and play and it’s us. I’ve taken teams in the past up that far and you can get dead legs from sitting on the bus for a long time,” Spartans Coach Louie Bilowitz said. “We will just go up there and play our best. Defensively, we are terrific. Offensively, we are not that high scoring of a team.”

The winner will advance to the Thursday’s first round and will travel to face La Quinta La Quinta, the Desert Valley League champion with a 17-4-4 record.

“We’ve achieved a lot this year and this will be a good challenge for us,” Bilowitz said. “I know Nipomo plays in a tough league, but we will be ready.”

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