Sockers Win Physical Game One 6-3 For Series Lead
Finding the defensive game which eluded them in the late stages of the regular season, and keeping the wisdom of experience which led them to the best record in the MASL, the San Diego Sockers found another way to win on the road, and to keep their winning streak alive.
Outlasting a duel between two determined sides, the Sockers received four goals from their back line and won without either of their top two goal scorers finding the net, a hard-earned 6-3 victory over the Tacoma Stars in the Pacific Division round of the Ron Newman Cup playoffs on Friday night at accesso ShoWare Center. Cesar Cerda scored short-handed and at even strength, while Christian Gutierrez and Ray Contreras also netted goals, as San Diego (24-1) extended their winning streak to 22 consecutive matches.
The Sockers, allowing only three goals for the first time since March 24th, finish a perfect 13-0 on the road, and will play at home for the remainder of the Ron Newman Cup playoffs. The two teams will meet again in San Diego on Saturday night, with the possibility of a mini-game to follow if Tacoma wins the 7:00 p.m. match. Boris Pardo made six saves to earn his 22nd victory of the year.
The Sockers won for the first time all year without either Kraig Chiles or Brandon Escoto scoring a goal. Escoto’s fourth quarter assist was the only point from the team’s top two scorers.
While San Diego celebrated the return of veteran defenseman Guerrero Pino after missing eight matches, the Stars attacked him early, with Philip Lund stepping to the left on a rush up the middle of the field and calmly finishing the opening goal of the series at 2:46 of the first quarter.
A blue card penalty against Pino with 5:11 remaining in the quarter put the Sockers a man down, but they turned the tables on Tacoma with a short-handed rush. Cesar Cerda raced down the right wall before bouncing the ball off the goal wall and back to himself for a left footed shot and goal, evening the score at 1-1 at 10:50 of the first. It was San Diego’s first short-handed goal of the season.
Playoff intensity featured throughout a testy second period, which saw Chiles in the box for a paw of Troy Peterson, and Waltman carded for a challenge of Cerda outside his area. During 4-on-4 play, San Diego broke out with the ball for a 3-on-1 break. Contreras controlled the ball down the left wing before crossing to Leonardo de Oliveira, whose rocket shot caromed off a Stars defender and inside the short post at 4:20 to put the Sockers ahead for the first time, 2-1.
Tacoma equalized on a lovely individual effort by striker Mike Ramos. Bringing a hard ball down at midfield and turning in one motion, Ramos attacked the left angle and stepped over the ball twice to work his way through the defense, before sliding a ball to the far post which Dan Antoniuk ran to tap in with a sliding effort at 11:43.
Granted a power play on Waltman’s challenge with 2:11 remaining, San Diego managed two excellent chances on goal, only to see the keeper make a one-handed save through traffic and a combo kick save to keep his team even at two heading into the half. The Sockers outshot the Stars 11-1 in the second quarter.
With tensions rising, each team’s star missed third-quarter glory by inches, as Chiles smashed the right post on a 2-on-1 finish, while Perera narrowly missed slotting a free kick into the upper right arc. Later in the third, a textbook press break by Tacoma sprung Chris Keitz up the middle of the field 1-on-1 against Pardo, only to be denied on a crouching save.
San Diego’s high pressure paid off in the final five minutes of the quarter. Pressing Waltman with two players near the goal, Hiram “Pollo” Ruiz got his foot on the veteran keeper’s attempted clearance, deflecting the ball near the crease to Taylor Bond. The former Star sent the ball back to a wide-open Ruiz, who guided the ball into a yawning net for a 3-2 lead at 10:51 of the third.
Cerda’s second goal came on a lovely shoulder dip and step from the left wing, finding space for a right-footed finish skipping past Waltman for the Sockers’ first multi-goal lead with just 1:31 remaining in the third. San Diego held a 4-2 lead to the final break.
While the Stars narrowed the advantage to 4-3 on an Adam West restart goal off of consecutive top-of-arc chances, Tacoma could not break San Diego’s possession for extended stretches of the fourth quarter. With time ticking down, the Sockers broke out with two Tijuanense running side-by-side on an outmanned rush. Brandon Escoto’s pass to Gutierrez was struck inside the left post on second touch and home past Waltman’s dive for the dagger goal at 12:01.
The Stars pulled Waltman for a sixth attacker in the final three minutes, but could not solve the Sockers’ defense, and the game closed with Brian Farber racing downfield to set up Conteras for a tap-in to close the scoring and send the crowd of 2,412 home.
Tacoma and San Diego will now battle once again, this time for boarding position on morning flights down to California before the 7:05 p.m. scheduled kickoff on Saturday night. The Sockers have the security of knowing that if Tacoma can win, they would still have the opportunity to take the series with a mini-game win. Tickets for the Pacific Division Final are on sale by phone at (866) 799-GOAL (4635), at the Pechanga Arena San Diego box office, or online at SDSockers.com.