The Santa Maria boys soccer team will try to finish an unprecedented run with a Southern California Regional championship Saturday.
The Saints will have to get past the top-ranked high school soccer team in California to get it.
Before this year, a Santa Maria team had never won a game in the regional soccer playoffs. Now, the Saints have won two. The seventh-ranked Saints defeated No. 6 Los Angeles Fremont 3-2 at Fremont in the semifinals Thursday.
Santa Maria (24-3-3) will take on Santa Ana Godinez (26-1-0) for the CIF State Southern California Division 2 Regional title at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Santa Ana Public Schools Sports Complex at Santa Ana Valley High School.
Maxpreps.com ranks Godinez No. 1 among state high school boys soccer teams.
There are no state playoffs because there are no northern regionals. The boys soccer teams in the six CIF northern sections have their respective seasons at various times of the year. Thus, a SoCal regional championship will be the pinnacle for either Godinez or Santa Maria.
The Grizzlies won the CIF Southern Section Division 2 championship. Their only loss was 3-1 to league rival Santa Ana Saddleback on Feb. 7.
The Saints went out in the divisional semifinals for the second straight year. The Grizzlies shut out Placentia Valencia, the team that edged Santa Maria in the divisional semis, in the divisional championship game and again in the regional semis.
Godinez scores an average of about 3.5 goals a game. The Grizzlies give up an average of about half a goal a game.
"We saw them play against (San Luis Obispo) in the first round of the playoffs," Santa Maria coach Eduardo Cuna said in a phone interview Friday night. "They're tall and fast.
"They have a big, physical forward who's hard to guard against," said Cuna. "We're going to try to keep a defender on him."
Cuna was referring to Godinez senior Bryan Ibarra. Ibarra averages more than a goal a game.
The Saints will counter with a balanced offense that has scored a total of eight goals in the regional and a defense that has allowed only three.
Five different Saints scored in a 5-1 win at No. 2 Visalia Golden West Tuesday. Andres Montano, Saul Ayuso and and Brayant Aquino scored a goal apiece for the Saints Thursday.
"We need to possess the ball," said Cuna, and the Saints have been adept at possessing the ball this year.
With midfielder Marino Corona, and Diego Villagran and the Tena twins, Miguel and Samuel, in back, Santa Maria's defense has been stellar.
Jose Hernandez, Santa Maria's regular goalkeeper, jammed his fingers in the Saints' win at Golden West. Gabriel Torres was Santa Maria's goalkeeper Thursday.
It was not known at press time whether or not Hernandez would be able to play Saturday.
"We're going to try our best," said Cuna. "We're just going to try to keep it going, man."