ENCINO — A storied 25-year-plus career highlighted by CIF Southern Section divisional championships along with league titles included one more Mission League victory Wednesday afternoon for St. Francis High soccer Coach Glen Appels.
Yet, perhaps it’s only Appels who regarded the Golden Knights’ 2-1 win at rival Crespi as important first and foremost because the triumph vaulted St. Francis back into league contention with an anticipated slugfest at CIF Southern Section Division I second-ranked Loyola on Friday looming.
What the modest coach was less willing to talk about was how league win No. 1 also equaled No. 400 in Appels’ career, a milestone he gave far more credit to the school and his players than to any of his individual efforts.
“We needed this win for league and to show that we could play. We had a couple of close chances earlier and came up short,” Appels said. “The 400 thing is nice. The school has been very loyal to me and I take special pride in that all 400 wins are at St. Francis.
“I’ve coached a lot of special and brilliant players throughout the years who deserve as much credit as anyone for our success.”
Appels’ squad appeared ready to celebrate as senior halfback Griffin O’Brien chipped in a five-yard goal past Crespi goalie Casey Keenan (six saves) in the 67th minute off a deep throw-in from senior striker Frankie Veiga, which put St. Francis (4-5-2, 1-1-1 in league) ahead, 2-0.
“The throw-in has been huge for us this year, it’s basically like a corner kick,” Veiga said. “They had some huge guys in there, so when I threw it in the ball bounced around and we got a great score.”
While the goal proved the match-winner, it also was a wake-up call for the Celts (7-6-1, 1-2), who missed on quite a few good looks early in the second half.
Overall, Crespi outshot St. Francis, 16-12, and finally broke through in the 73rd minute when senior captain Sebastian Morales scored from 12 yards on an attack that started on the wings by sophomore midfielder Trevor Tubbs.
The goal was the lone blemish against St. Francis sophomore goalie Mark Garcia, who was otherwise stout and finished with 10 saves.
“We’ve faced guys like Sebastian with good speed and good moves and they’re tough,” Garcia said. “We had a defensive breakdown on the left side on that goal, but other than that, I think we did great.
“We knew coach was going for 400 and we wanted to get that tonight.”
Crespi pressured over the match’s final seven minutes, missing on a laser 30-yard free kick from sophomore forward William Lopez in the 78th minute and then a Mora 15-yard blast that Garcia stopped by partially trapping the ball against the post in the 80th minute.
“Today was about finding a way to win. We scored an early goal and then we had the run of play and then the game changed in the second half,” Appels said. “[Crespi] started taking control, had some corners and some good looks and fortunately we added a goal and held on.”
Crespi trailed, 1-0, to begin the second half and tallied five shots through the first 10 minutes after halftime.
Garcia contributed back-to-back saves on 20- and 25-yard rockets from Morales in the 46th and 47th minutes, respectively.
Garcia received a huge assist from defender Paola Ramirez, who came up with a last-second clear out after a shot from Morales was knocked back in the direction of the striker after a diving stop from Garcia, which left the net completely open in the 51st minute.
“We had some big clear-outs that saved us,” Garcia said. “It wasn’t just me, the defense came up with some big plays and the offense scored early.”
Veiga put the Golden Knights on top, 1-0, in the 24th minute when the forward knocked in a six-yard shot in the middle of a scrum that included four other players within the goal mouth.
Veiga also nearly had a foot on a third goal when he was taken down inside Crespi’s box by Celts defender Chris Nazarian in the 77th minute.
The foul resulted in a penalty kick taken by Veiga, who was denied on an excellent diving save from Keenan, who guessed correctly and dived low and to his left for the save.
Appels’ 400th win came on the team’s third try at the feat as St. Francis tied Alemany, 2-2, on Jan. 8 before losing to Harvard-Westlake, 3-1, on Monday.