Win propels CHS boys soccer into first-place tie

The Wolfpack held off a strong surge from the Chino Hills Huskies, then put the game out of reach when Cameron Lorek sealed the game with a score of 3-1 on Friday. Claremont has now won 3 matches on the road and is tied for first place with rivals Damien with identical 6-2 league records.

Coach Fred Bruce-Oliver sent his team out in a 4-3-3 formation, using his wingers to spread the Huskies’ back line thin. Kyle Del Campo took over in goal for the injured Nick Serabyn. Claremont’s back 4 defenders kept a high, flat line throughout the game to counter long balls over the top.

“Whenever we perform well, we keep the lineup the same,” explained Coach Bruce-Oliver. “But during the game, we try players in different spots to see what we can get with other combinations.”

Claremont came out on the front foot in the first half, with left-winger Austin Antillon winning the ball in a dangerous position. His pass was cut out, and the Wolfpack could not get a shot in. In the eighth minute, the game sprang to life. Antillon and central striker Kelley Collins linked up in Chino Hills’ area. The Huskies failed to clear their lines, and then Ben Santia pounced on the ball, sending it low and hard into the corner of the net.

Only 2 minutes later, Claremont almost scored again. Santia picked up possession inside his own half, and carried the ball unchallenged for 40 yards. He laid it off to Collins, whose left-foot shot arrowed toward the top corner. Huskies’ goalkeeper Jonas Carranza leapt to his left and got 2 fingers on the shot to tip it wide. Jason Umansky launched the resulting throw into the box, and Steven Mancia directed a firm header against the crossbar.

At 30 minutes, Claremont had another throw. Umansky again put the ball in the danger area, and again the Huskies failed to clear. Santia could not believe his luck, as the ball bounced right to him. His shot found the exact same spot as his first goal, low to the goalkeeper’s left. Claremont went into halftime sitting pretty with a 2-0 lead.

Coach Bruce-Oliver praised his players for their first-half performance.

“We came out working hard right from the beginning,” he said. “I was happy with the way we shut the other team down early.”

Claremont came out in the second half with an unchanged strategy, but with Sam Springer moving from midfield to attack, and new wingers Paymon Minale and Lorek. Christian Tejeda came into the game in defense, and Auden Foxe slotted into the midfield. The change paid almost instant dividends, as a long ball from Cassady O’Reilly-Hahn found Springer in space between the Huskies central defenders. He dragged his shot wide from the edge of the area.

Chino Hills attacks typically relied on the long ball. Del Campo needed to be alert on a number of occasions, first picking a cross out of the air while being fouled, and then saving the day on 69 minutes when we came out to block a breakaway. Claremont’s passing was beginning to look suspect, and it was a giveaway in the back that led to the chance.

“At times, we looked like we panicked in possession,” Coach Bruce-Oliver said. “I don’t want the players to be impatient and force a pass when it’s not there.”

With 5 minutes to go, Huskies passing was becoming more hurried. Chino Hills got a huge break on 78 minutes, when Springer incidentally handled the ball about 20 yards from Claremont’s goal. Huskies midfielder Miguel Iniguez struck the resulting free kick left footed, and after a couple of deflections, teammate Cruz Guerrero pounced on the rebound and slotted the ball under Del Campo.

The goal silenced the home crowd, but Claremont responded better than anyone could have hoped. Instead of sitting back, the Wolfpack took the kickoff and attacked straightaway. With 3 minutes of injury time looming, Foxe picked up the ball in the center circle, poked it through a defender’s legs, and sent a raking pass out to Collins on the right. He beat his marker, cut inside and rolled it to Lorek. Lorek feinted right, went left and cut his shot back across the onrushing goalkeeper to close up shop for the Wolfpack.

Claremont looked to clinch a playoff spot in the Ayala game played yesterday. The Wolfpack then play their final regular season game on Thursday, February 7 at 5:30 p.m., against the Ayala Bulldogs. Wins in both of these games could give Claremont the top seeding from the Sierra League for the CIF playoffs. Ayala sits at 4-4 in third place, narrowly beating Claremont last time out. However, the Wolfpack have all the momentum this time.

—Chris Oakley


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