Three times Tuesday a Santa Maria player put the ball in the back of the net. 

The first of those times, however, the goal was disallowed due to an offside penalty early in the first half of the CIF Southern Section Division 2 semifinal game against Valencia of Placentia.

The next time a Santa Maria player found the back of the net, it was an own goal, giving Valencia a 1-0 lead. Valencia's Mario Luna added to the Tigers' lead with a breakaway goal two minutes later, giving Valencia a 2-0 advantage.

Santa Maria's Marino Corona scored the Saints' lone goal that counted for their side during first-half stoppage time and the Saints lost 2-1.

The Saints' Samuel Tena appeared the give Santa Maria a 1-0 lead over the Tigers after heading in a free kick that bounced in front of the box. The Saints celebrated, the goal was announced over the public-address system and the Saints were given a 1-0 lead on the scoreboard at Ralph Baldiviez Stadium.

However, the head referee was waving off the goal and the offside was called. 

"It wasn't offsides," Santa Maria coach Eduardo Cuna said. "It was a close call, but we're not going to cry over that. It is what it is. We're going to give the ref the benefit of the doubt."

Santa Maria players were left in tears after the final whistle sounded. The Saints advanced to the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section playoffs the last two years but have not made the championship game. They end their season with a 22-3-3 record.

Not too long after Tena's header was disallowed, Valencia would take the lead.

The Tigers were awarded a corner kick with 17:20 left in the first half. The kick, from the right corner, sailed near the end line and came down near a group of Santa Maria defenders, with no Tiger in the vicinity. Somehow, the ball deflected off a Santa Maria defender and into the net for the game's first official goal. 

Santa Maria didn't do itself any favors on Valencia's next goal either. 

One of Santa Maria's defensive midfielders mis-hit a pass intended for a teammate and the ball went right to Valencia's Noah Engstrom, who then set the Tigers out on a swift counter attack.

Engstrom passed to Luna on his right and Luna barreled down on the Santa Maria defense, eventually sending a right-to-left shot that beat Santa Maria's goal keeper and gave the Tigers a 2-0 lead. 

Santa Maria wouldn't lay down, though. The Saints consistently put pressure on the Tigers throughout the game and especially near the end of the first half. 

With stoppage time running out in the first period, Santa Maria's Saul Ayuso did well to maintain possession as the Saints were building up an attack. Ayuso turned his back toward goal and dumped off a pass for his teammate, Marino Corona. 

Corona took one dribble straight toward goal and then rifled off a right-footed shot that dipped right under the crossbar and just over the goalkeeper's hand for a colossal goal and making the score 2-1. Corona's shot, which left his foot at the 22-yard line, traveled more than 30 yards when adding in the 10-yard end zone of the football field. The crowd roared in awe of Corona's dazzling goal.

Corona's score sparked the Saints and they continued to pressure the Tigers in the second half, but they were never able to find an equalizer. Jorge Carmona, Gabino Montano and Andres Montano all stung some solid attacks together in the second half, but Santa Maria was never able to break through. 

"We just have to give it to them," Cuna said. "They held their composure on the back. They play good, tight defense all around. We scored on ourselves on that corner kick and it's all just mental. Mental mistakes right there. You have to be aware at all times."

After a brief stoppage time, the referee blew the final whistle and many Santa Maria players collapsed on the turf, exhausted from chasing an equalizer and their first CIF final berth since 2005. Many Santa Maria players left the field in tears, though they will get another chance to represent their high school. As a semifinalist, the Saints are guaranteed a state playoff berth and they will likely play on the road next Tuesday in the CIF State Championships. 

"It's been a good run. It's painful because I know we had the talent this time around," an emotional Cuna added. "We had more experience, some of these guys have been with us the last three CIF runs. If anything, we had the right pieces this year. We just couldn't put it together at the end, it just wasn't enough.

"I'm going to miss them all. They're very talented and hopefully they do something with themselves in the future."

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Sports Editor

Alumni Fresno State