Being the top seed and defending state champions tends to put a big target on a team’s back.
The Garces boys soccer team knows that feeling all too well and felt it again on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Central Section Division IV playoffs at home at Sam Tobias Field.
The No. 1 Rams held on for a 2-1 victory over No. 8 Arvin. Garces advances and will host No. 4 Chavez in the semifinals on Wednesday at 6 p.m.
“I was really proud of the boys tonight.” Garces coach Hassan Halevy said. “It was a tough, hard fought game and the boys showed a lot of resilience by grinding out the win tonight.”
The game was a stalemate until Ebube Ekpemogu knocked in a shot off a corner kick to give Garces (22-2) and 1-0 lead with eight minutes left in the first half.
Arvin responded with the equalizer off a free kick just three minutes later, sending the game into halftime, tied at 1-1.
“We knew this game was not going to be easy,” Halevy said. “Arvin has some good players and has showed some grit all season long. They kept the pressure on us in the second half, but our defense shut them down and we hung on for the win.”
The game-winner came 14 minutes into the second half as Fletcher Bank scored off the corner kick from Alexander Halevy.
“I thought we did a good job of keeping possession and creating loads of opportunities,” Coach Halevy said. “Everyone knows we can score a lot of goals, but what I don’t think teams realize is how well our defense has played all season. I think that was the difference tonight, and why we are in the position we are in. It was a great team playoff win.”
The Rams defense kept the Bears out of the net the rest of the game.
Garces has won 13 consecutive wins and is in the semifinals for a second consecutive season after winning the Central Section and CIF Southern California Regional championships last season.
“We have some things that we will evaluate and work on over the next couple of days and get prepared for the semifinals next week,” Halevy said.