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Live Oak soccer roars into title game
Lions rout West Valley 4-0
Hungry to return to the section championship game for the second straight year, the Live Oak High boys soccer team left nothing to chance on Tuesday afternoon.
From the opening whistle until the final one, the Lions dominated all the action, blending together their ball-handling skills, passing ability and stout back line to turn their Northern Section Division II semifinal against visiting West Valley into a rout.
But once the dust cleared following the easy 4-0 victory, Live Oak coach Mike Owen wasted little time reminding his players they still have one game left to go — and it's the only one that matters.
On Saturday, the No. 2-seeded Lions (11-1-5) will travel to face longtime nemesis Orland for the section crown, the same team that beat Live Oak 1-0 in last year's title match, and a squad that has ended the Lions' playoff run each of the last three seasons.
Orland advanced with a 2-0 win over Gridley on Tuesday.
The top-ranked Trojans (18-0-1) — three-time defending section champs — also handed Live Oak its only loss this year with a 2-1 victory on Dec. 4.
Needless to say, the two programs are very familiar with each other, and to finally get over the hump and claim their first championship since 2008, Owen knows his team will have to be at its best come kickoff time.
"This will be our third final in four years and fourth final in six years, and every one of them has been against Orland," Owen said. "We've been knocking on the door for a while now, but they've got a great team. It's going to be tough for us come Saturday."
If the Lions play like they did on Tuesday, that long-awaited section banner could be theirs.
Just 10 minutes into the match, Live Oak scored the only goal it would need when sophomore fullback Rene Martinez sent a long cross ahead to Edgar Diaz, who headed the ball in, putting the host up 1-0.
The Lions went on to outshoot the Eagles 12-2 in the opening half, but didn't score again until junior Sal Vargas found the back of the net on an unassisted goal in the 38th minute, giving Live Oak a 2-0 lead at the break.
Vargas added his second goal of the match in the 44th minute, and junior Ricky Caratachea put the finishing touches on the victory by converting a penalty kick with 9 minutes left.
"We just played well as a team today — the defense played good and the midfielders played good," Vargas said. "We want to get that championship back to Live Oak and it was a good effort by everyone."
Leading the defensive charge for Live Oak was Martinez and the senior trio of Ismael Esparza, Victor Ziranda and Edgar Silva, each of whom stopped the Eagles the few times they had scoring opportunities.
It all added up to an easy day for Lions' goalkeeper Joel Cibrian, who made all of two saves on the afternoon.
"I didn't have too much action today," joked Cibrian, who was dogpiled by his teammates for his birthday after the match.
Owen was worried his club might come out a little sluggish considering the Lions hadn't played for 12 days following a first-round bye. However, a quick start and a strong finish helped put his mind at ease.
"Having the first-round bye, it's like playing your first game again. You can practice all you want, but we needed to play up to game speed," he said. "It was nice to come out and play the way we did. We played a great team game."
Now, they are just one win away from a title.
"It means a lot to us," Caratachea added. "We have to play harder and learn from our mistakes from last time, but it should be a good game against Orland. Hopefully we'll win this time."