Santa Maria's 2017 boys soccer team responded to a disappointment in the CIF Southern Section Playoffs with a historic run in the Southern California Regional Tournament.
After losing 2-1 to Valencia (Valencia) in the semifinals of the SS-Division 2 playoffs, Saints went where no Santa Maria soccer team had gone before.
The Saints went to the Southern California Regional championship game.
They lost 3-1 to top-ranked Santa Ana Godinez but the Saints getting two regional wins, against higher ranked teams, rates as the Lee Central Coast Newspapers' No. 10 sports story of 2017, as selected by the LCCN sports staff.
"We gave it our all today," Santa Maria coach Eduardo Cuna said after the regional title game. "I cannot be any prouder of the boys. I told the kids that."
Santa Maria played in the regional in 2016 but lost in the first round at Canoga Park.
The Saints and the Grizzlies played for the 2017 regional title March 11 at the Santa Ana Public Schools Sports Complex at Santa Ana Valley High School.
The Saints led 1-0 at halftime, thanks to Marino Corona's first-half goal. Santa Maria simply couldn't slow down the powerful Godinez attack after halftime, and the Saints couldn't get many scoring opportunities themselves.
Nonetheless it was a big season for the Saints, who won the Los Padres League championship and finished 24-4-3 overall.
"After we went out in the (sectional) semifinals, our goal was to win (the regional championship)," Corona said afterward.
"Unfortunately that didn't happen, but we came a long way."
Santa Maria was seeded seventh in the eight-team regional. The Saints won 5-1 at No. 2 Visalia Golden West in the first round and then edged third-ranked Los Angeles Fremont 3-2 in the semifinals.
The Saints won on the road both times. There was no Northern California Regional, so the So Cal Regional title game was it for the Saints and the top-ranked Grizzlies.
Santa Maria's points were widely distributed in its two regional wins.
Saul Ayuso scored a goal and had an assist against Golden West. So did Andres Moreno. Ivan Estrada, Brayant Aquino and Jorge Carmona all scored a goal. Corona, Miguel Tena and Saul Salcido all had an assist.
The Saints also played solid defense. "Everybody played defense, from our striker on down," Santa Maria assistant coach Horacio Vieyra Jr. said by phone after the game.
"The kids were motivated after our loss in the CIF Southern Section Division 2 semifinals."
Cuna gave his defense a lot of credit for his team's win at Fremont.
"At halftime we made some adjustments and our defense really came through, giving us the ability to pull off the win," Cuna said in a phone interview afterward.
"Marino Corona in the middle, Diego Villagran and the Tena brothers, Miguel and Samuel, played some solid defense and kept them from getting any real good scoring chances."
Cuna said the Pathfinders "had some speed on their side. They moved the ball side-to-side and really gave us a hard time."
The Saints lost 10 players from the 2017 team to graduation.