SANTA ANA — Santa Maria's squad stayed with the top-ranked boys soccer team for a half Saturday. In fact, the Saints LED the top-ranked team in the state at halftime.
In the second half, the Saints simply couldn't keep up with the top-ranked team in the state.
Santa Ana Godinez answered Marino Corona's first-half goal for the Saints with three unanswered goals in the second half, and the Grizzlies beat the Saints 3-1 in the CIF State Division 2 Southern Regional championship game at the Santa Ana Public Schools Sports Complex at Santa Ana Valley High School.
"They were one of the best teams we've played against, and the best team we played in the regional," Corona, a junior midfielder, said afterward.
Godinez, which lost in the Division 4 regional title game last year, finished 27-1-0. The Grizzlies came in as the top-ranked boys soccer team in California by Maxpreps.com. The Saints wound up 24-4-3.
Godinez won the CIF Southern Section Division 2 championship. Santa Maria went out in the sectional Division 2 semifinals, the second consecutive year the Saints lost in a sectional semi.
However, the seventh-seeded Saints picked up their first regional wins ever, winning 5-1 at No. 2 Visalia Golden West Tuesday and 3-2 at No. 6 Los Angeles Fremont Thursday.
Corona lined a strike into the left side of the net in the 13th minute Saturday. It didn't take long in the second half for Godinez standout senior stiriker Bryan Ibarra to get the equalizer for the Grizzlies.
Santa Maria goalkeeper Jose Hernandez came out ahead of a Godinez rush in the second minute after the break, but he couldn't corral the ball after getting a foot on it. Ibarra knocked the ball into the unguarded net.
In the 33rd minute of the second half, Roberto Arzate headed in Ibarra's long, well-placed throw-in for the winning goal.
"I had been worried about their throw-ins," said Santa Maria coach Eduardo Cuna.
In fact, in a phone interview Friday night, Cuna said, "Their throw-ins are like free kicks."
Santa Maria put on decent pressure in the last six minutes but, with the Grizzlies effectively massing their defense deep, the Saints couldn't come close to scoring.
Ibarra went on a breakaway down the Saints' sideline in the last two minutes. Santa Maria defender Brian Gomez stole the ball from Ibarra three times after the break, but this time Gomez's sliding steal try failed.
Ibarra booted the ball into the net for the last goal.
"When we were down 2-1, we tried to push and I took one of my defenders, Diego Villagran, off (Ibarra)," said Cuna.
"We went with just three defenders. That's how he was able to get that breakaway."
Alexis Palacios controlled things in the midfield area for the Grizzlies much of the time and, with Ibarra quarterbacking things, Godinez controlled the ball most of the way.
Gomez helped the Saints keep the persistent Grizzlies off the scoreboard in the first half. Godinez's attack was simply too much for Santa Maria to deal with in the second.
The Santa Maria goal was the only one Godinez gave up in three regional games. The Grizzlies won their first two regional games 4-0 and 3-0.
"Santa Maria has a very good team," said Godinez coach Ruben Fernandez. "I told the boys that any team that makes it to the (regional) final has to be good.
"They scored a beautiful goal, but we were able to take advantage of our chances in the second half. We deserved the win."
There is no Northern California Regional - the six Northern section squads in California have their respective seasons at disparate times - so this was it for the Grizzlies and the Saints.
"We gave it our all today," said Cuna. "I cannot be any prouder of the boys. I told the kids that."
"After we went out in the (sectional) semifinals, our goal was to win (the regional championship)," said Corona. "Unfortunately that didn't happen, but we came a long way."
Only two of Santa Maria's eight shot attempts were on frame. Hernandez made five saves.