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The Nipomo High boys soccer team didn’t just earn a designated burger day from their coaches, they sealed a CIF Central Section playoff spot on Tuesday night at Jay Will Stadium.

Jesus “Chuy” Hinojosa used his right leg to powerfully blast the game-winning goal with under two minutes left in the second 10-minute overtime period, lifting the visiting Titans to the 3-2 overtime win over St. Joseph.

An excited group of Titans huddled with their head coach George Ayala near midfield to celebrate the win. The coach then proceeded to tell them that a “Burger Day” was officially in the works in the coming days – rewarding the Titans for battling through the season and clinching a playoff spot.

Nipomo may be 10-18 overall, but its road win over the Knights puts them at 7-5 in Ocean League games and solidifies fourth place in league standings.

And the victory wouldn’t have been made possible if it weren’t for a gutsy coaching decision by Ayala. The choice ensured that the midfielder Hinojosa had the opportunity to end overtime, and end the game with a road victory against a vastly improved Knights team.

“I made a tactical change at the overtime. I put him at the high forward – and that really helped out,” Ayala said. “I just said ‘Hey, give the ball to Chuy.’”

St. Joseph (9-10-2 overall, 6-6 in the Ocean League) came out of the first 10-minute overtime period aggressive on offense. Jackson Stahl, who earned Male Athlete of the Week honors at the Northern Santa Barbara County Athletic Round Table on Monday, launched two goal attempts against NHS. One attempt was through a header – but the ball never touched the back of the net.

Christian Angulo then pounded a 25-yard rocket launch to try to end the game with a Knights win, but the ball was stopped by Chris Downing inside the net.

In the second 10-minute extra period, NHS forward and captain Carlos Diaz had an opportunity from the left corner to send the ball in. But the floating ball was saved by Gabe Penner.

Then, Nathan Halsell of the Knights was given the penalty kick chance to lift SJHS to victory. Halsell had previously buried a penalty kick for the Knights’ first point of the evening during the first half. But this latest attempt was caught by Downing.

Hinojosa became the last to score and ended his night with two goals. His first one arrived with nearly 20 minutes left in the second half that tied it 2-2, which was a deflected ball that rolled his way before pounding the ball through the net.

Joe Illif tacked on the other goal for the Knights. The senior took advantage of a stopped penalty kick attempt by Halsell by coming from right behind and putting the soccer ball in, rewarding the Knights with a 2-1 halftime lead.

James Stuart was the first to score on the night, softly kicking the ball and watching it roll past Penner at the 36:40 mark of the first to give NHS the early 1-0 lead.

For the Titans and Ayala, playing in overtime is nothing new for this team.

“We’ve had a couple of overtime wins this season but this was pretty tight, pretty good and pretty fun,” Ayala said. “They (St. Joseph) are a lot better than they were when we played them at home.”

Now, the Titans will wait on their CIF Central Section Division 3 playoff pairing in the next six days. They’re in a loaded field featuring seven teams with 13 wins or more including top ranked Madera South at 18-5-1.

“We don’t know yet. We’ll know more on Monday at 2 p.m. but more than likely, we’ll be traveling somewhere in the Central Valley,” Ayala said of NHS’s potential playoff game.

Knights head coach Alex Spence said that St. Joseph is in the postseason for Division 2 and, like NHS, will more than likely travel for their opening round postseason contest. St. Joseph will be in a competitive playoff field featuring traditional section powers Dinuba (18-5-1), Reedley (17-6-2) and Tulare Western (17-6-3).  

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Sports Reporter