Hosting one CIF State boys soccer championships wasn’t enough for Garces Memorial.
After winning the CIF State Southern California Regional Division V title last season, the Rams are back home Saturday in the SoCal D-III finals after downing No. 6 Norwalk 3-0 in the semifinals on Thursday night at Sam Tobias Field.
The Rams become the first Kern County team to host consecutive state championships and are looking to become just the fourth team to win multiple titles.
Garces hosts No. 5 Corona-Santiago on Saturday. The game is tentatively scheduled for 4 p.m.
“This is a chance of a lifetime, man,” Garces junior Elijah Toppila said. “You don’t get these very often. I cannot wait.”
The 2nd-seeded Rams waited a good 39 minutes, and then some, before Toppila’s goal gave Garces (25-2) the 1-0 lead just before the halftime whistle blew.
“It felt great, man. I am just happy to get that goal for the team,” Toppila said. “The level of excitement, wow.”
Garces got some breathing room in the second half as Fletcher Bank and Angel Navarro both scored to give the Rams a 3-0 lead with 15 minutes left in the semifinals and some time to enjoy the home crowd.
The other semifinal, with Santiago upsetting No. 1 seed Newhall-Hart 3-0, was already finished, so the Rams knew that a win and home field advantage would be theirs on Saturday in the finals once again after beating Pasadena-Marshall for the D-V title last March.
“I don’t know how to compare (these two teams from last year to this year). I keep telling them that we haven’t done anything, yet,” Garces coach Robbie Gouk said. “They have the potential. These are great kids.”
Palmer Bank and the rest of the Garces defense kept Norwalk (17-6-1) at bay most of the game.
Bank made a diving save in the final minutes of the game to secure another shutout, his 14th this season and second consecutive after beating Shafter 4-0 in the Central Section D-IV finals two weeks ago.
“I thought we played very well as a team with some great goals in there,” Bank said. “This means so much to extend the season as long as we can. We love playing at home. Especially with a crowd like tonight, it’s just so much fun.”