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Faith Christian blanked in playoff opener
Soccer is a sport of breaks — sometimes teams get them, sometimes they don't.
That was the case for Faith Christian High boys' soccer team on Thursday, and unfortunately for the Lions, those breaks happened to go the other way.
Taking on Vacaville Christian in the opening round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII playoffs, Faith Christian started slow, fell victim to an own goal early and was denied in each of its scoring opportunities in a season-ending 2-0 loss at home.
The No. 3-seeded Lions (11-10-2) were the co-champions of the Sacramento Metropolitan Athletic League during the regular season, but they didn't get much offense going against the No. 6 Falcons, who controlled the vast majority of the action to advance to the second round against No. 2 Victory Christian on Wednesday.
"We've played a lot better, we just didn't play well today," Faith coach Robert Ripley said. "I don't know what happened. I thought we were ready, but we didn't look into it until there was four minutes left in the half."
That slow start cost the Lions dearly as Vacaville Christian (9-7-2) scored the match's only two goals just seconds apart early in the contest.
The first goal came in the 11th minute when Brent Williams lined up for a corner kick and sent a ball high into a crowd of players. Freshman goalkeeper Chase Tollenaar was on the spot and timed his jump perfectly, but accidentally punched the ball into his own net to give the visitors a quick 1-0 advantage.
The Falcons followed up that goal with another one off the foot of Jeremy Rico less than a minute later, giving them a lead they would hold until the final whistle.
"We've been unbeaten in our last seven games, so we've been playing elimination games for a while just scrambling to make the playoffs," Vacaville Christian coach Paulo Mikelionis said. "We have a lot of respect for Faith. I saw them play (Sacramento) Country Day and from that game I saw they were a good, disciplined team.
"We were just well prepared."
Mikelionis explained that his team had two main objectives in the match — mark Lions' leading scorer Sam Ithurburn and stop Faith's corner-kick opportunities. His team went on to do both.
The Lions' best scoring chance came in the 21st minute when Sun Lee was tackled in the box and was awarded a penalty kick. Lee struck his PK perfectly, but Falcons' keeper Steven Gloudeman made an outstanding diving stop to keep Faith off the scoreboard.
"That stop was made by an all-league keeper, so that was not a fluke," Mikelionis said.
For Ripley and the Lions, the save also proved to be a back-breaker.
"If we'd made that penalty kick, it could've changed the game," Ripley said. "A couple things didn't roll our way today. That own goal turned the tide and when they came down and scored right away again, that hurt."
Faith had a couple more opportunities to find the scoreboard but came up short both times. Ithurburn just missed wide right in the 26th minute and a Micah Atkins' shot sailed wide left in the 59th.
Ripley praised the effort of Atkins and freshman Chase Gordon at midfield, as well as the play of Tollenaar, who finished the match with 10 saves.
"We have a pretty young team," Ripley added. "We're only losing four seniors and we have seven freshmen, so we should be pretty good again next year."