East County Sports

Steele Canyon claims CIFSDS soccer crown



Division III: Steele Canyon 3, Hilltop 0

By Ramon Scott
ECS staff writer
DEL CERRO – The Steele Canyon Cougars brought their championship game experience into Thursday night’s San Diego CIF Division III title game against against the one-loss Hilltop Lancers and it may have proved the difference in a 3-0 win at Patrick Henry High.
The third-seeded Cougars, a team with ten seniors who lost in the Division IV section title game last season to Olympian, 1-0, avenged a 3-0 loss to the top-seeded Lancers in a tournament game back on Dec. 18.
Senior Austin Moore scored a pair of second half breakaway goals to put the Lancers’ chances in the rear-view mirror in Thursday’s division final.
“In last year’s (title) game, I really didn’t get anything on goal or help the team as much as I wanted to in the championship, so it was nice to come in and have an impact in this game,” said Moore, who leads the team with 16 goals this season.
After most of the first half was played in the midfield, sophomore Victor Carlos scored with just under five minutes to play in the first half when he hit a hard, solid shot from 15 yards off a deflection in the box following a long throw-in by Matthew Thornton, of the Cougars.
“The defender hit it back my way but there was a teammate coming in front of me but I told him, ‘I got it’ and there was space,” said Carlos, who has two goals now in the postseason.
The Lancers nearly got the goal right back right before the end of the when its best attempt of the game smacked off the crossbar and deflected down just a couple of feet from the goal line where it was secured by goalie Alex Shields.
Shield allowed the only goal in the championship game defeat last season when a token shot attempt by Olympian ended up taking a tricky hop after skipping off the raised lettering in the Eastlake High goal mouth.
“My teammates have my back always and we didn’t let it go in tonight,” said Shields, who had five saves on Thursday. “I knew I could save these shots this time.”
Steele Canyon has allowed just 16 goals this season.
Hilltop entered the championship game with just one loss from 26 games this season (18-1-7). The Lancers struggled during the pandemic-delayed season, finishing with one win, but have won 38 games over the last three “full” campaigns.
“You have to give credit for Hilltop for an incredible season,” said Steele Canyon head coach Justin Johnson, who coached his first title team in eight seasons as coach of the Cougars. “The scoreline was 3-0 just like that tournament game, it could’ve gone either way.
“The score didn’t reflect how close these teams were then or tonight. We said to their coaches at that time, we hope we could do it again. In a game of this caliber, you get one (goal) and the game changes. We knew with 15 players from our playoff team from last year, that the moment wasn’t going to be too big for them and the executed terrifically, so I was really proud.”
Steele Canyon senior captain Danny Medina got sent off after pushing a Lancer opponent after having his legs taken out on a challenge but the Cougars had their three-goal cushion by then.
“Super proud of our team” Medina said. “From day one, coach Johnson told us we would make it back to the final. We just kept fighting all season.”
The Cougars had only tasted playoff success a few times over the eight years under Johnson but he noted that three of his seniors entered the title game with seven games of playoff experience.
The Cougars finished second this season in the Grossmont Valley League with an 8-2 mark and improved to 18-4 overall.
“I knew from the start that we would be CIF champs,” Moore added. “We didn’t get the league title, so we went for the better title.”
The Cougars will play in a state division playoff game in their next contest.
“This is a class we have been excited for but on a team of 25, we only had 10 seniors, so we can continue to build on this in the next division,” Johnson said.
For Hilltop, the culmination of a championship berth was undoubtedly a success for a program that won just one game during a shortened season in 2021, which saw them play just 14 contests.
The peak moment of the Lancers’ season came in the semifinals when senior captain Gael Aguirre blasted a 30-yard, free kick bomb in overtime against Chula Vista to gain the title game berth with a 2-1 win. Hilltop also defeated Vista, 3-1 in the quarterfinals.


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