M. Soccer: Win sends Falcons to conference tournament finals

Pablo Caparelli (5) celebrates after scoring the third goal of the game for the Falcons
Pablo Caparelli (5) celebrates after scoring the third goal of the game for the Falcons

Staring at the program's first two-game losing streak since 2016, the Cerritos College men's soccer team came out strong against El Camino College and finished with a 3-1 win. The victory propels the Falcons (14-4-1, 8-2-0) into the South Coast Conference Tournament championship game, which will take place at 4:00 p.m. on Friday at El Camino College. The win over the Warriors (16-3-1, 7-3-1) also avenged a 2-0 loss one week ago that snapped the Falcons 44-match unbeaten streak that dated back to 2016.

Coming out of the gates with a purpose, Cerritos put immediate pressure on the El Camino defense and especially goalkeeper Luis Garibay, who was asked to make a couple of early saves. The pressure came to fruition in the seventh minute when sophomore Alex Rodriguez (Gertz Ressler HS) was able to get the ball through a small crowd of players to sophomore Armando Ibarra, Jr. (Downey HS), who was able to chip the ball into the net. The goal was just his second in the last seven games, but increases his team lead to 15 on the year.

The emergence of Ibarra, who had been hampered with a injury, was a welcomed addition to head coach Benny Artiaga.

"This was a great win for our program today," stated Artiaga. "The boys trained great all week and were really prepared. It really helped to get our leader, Armando, back, too."

El Camino was able to withstand the early offensive rush and tied the game in the 19th minute off a corner kick. Falcon goalkeeper Alex Ledesma (Bellflower HS) was just called upon to make a point blank save against Mario Carlos, which set up the corner kick. The Warriors wasted no time and converted it into a goal.

It was an extremely physical game between the two teams, with five cards issued in the first half and 13 fouls called.

In the final minutes of the first half, Cerritos would get an unexpected goal, which turned out to be the game-winner. On a corner kick from freshman Arnold Castillo (Bell Gardens HS), freshman Edwin Rodriguez (Jefferson HS) was able to direct the ball with a header in front of the El Camino net. The ball did hit the hand of Warrior defender Haruki Utsumi, but the speed and direction of the ball was already sending the ball into the net. The touch didn't guide the ball into the net, so Rodriguez was credited with his first goal of the season.

The intensity of the match carried over into the second half, with El Camino's top defender, Eli Ristovski being issued a red card for his physical play in front of the Cerritos net. Ristovski, who had already received a yellow card in the first half, left the Warriors with just 10 players on the field for the final 21 minutes.

It took Cerritos less than two minutes to strike, with freshman Miguel Martinez (Bright Star Secondary Charter Academy HS) sending a ball through the thinner El Camino defense to the foot of freshman Pablo Caparelli (Real Salt Lake Academy, UT HS), who went in alone against Garibay. A quick flick of the foot and the Falcons had a 3-1 lead and were on their way to the conference tournament championship game.

Photos by Daryl Peterson