The San Luis Obispo High boys soccer team earned a share of the PAC 7 title last season despite having two losses on its league record.
So although the Tigers are disappointed to have two ties through three PAC 8 matches this season, including Friday’s 2-2 draw at Arroyo Grande, the senior-laden squad isn’t hitting the panic button just yet.
“That’s what I like about this group — nothing but a win is satisfying to them,” San Luis Obispo coach James Boscaro said. “I’ve coached teams in the past where (a tie) would have been a good result on an away field, but this team wants more than that.”
Second-half goals by Jessee Barry and Willie Kirschner two minutes apart gave San Luis Obispo — the top-ranked team in CIF-Southern Section Division 3 — a lead in the 59th minute, but Christian Merino found the equalizer five minutes later with a left-footed strike on a free kick from 22 yards out.
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“We were really hoping to give them their first loss,” Merino said of the Tigers (9-0-3, 1-0-2), “but I’m satisfied with the tie. We played a good game.”
After a scoreless first half in which San Luis Obispo was able to hold possession longer, the Eagles were the ones who struck first in the opening minute of the second half.
Merino sent a corner kick toward the near post, but it bounced across the goalmouth and was knocked in by Cesar Diaz.
“We picked our energy up and started fighting for every ball,” Arroyo Grande coach Brad Bowdey said of the second half. “We wanted to put them on their heels a little bit the way they did to us in the first half.”
It was the fourth goal conceded on a corner kick this year, Barry said.
“Corners are killing us,” the senior said. “It’s wanting to win the ball at that moment. There’s 11 people on the field, and if one person’s turned off, it just doesn’t happen. Everybody has to be focused.”
As upset as they were with the goal, the Tigers — ranked 17th in the state and 45th in the country by MaxPreps.com — responded in a big way.
Barry tied the score by latching onto a long pass from Emmett Fox-Pendergrast and lofting a header just under the bar.
“My defender was on me pretty tight the whole time, and I saw Emmett had some time,” he said. “We kind of made eye contact, he whipped it across, and I was able to flick it right on goal.”
Kirschner put San Luis Obispo ahead moments later with a steal and a short-side finish for his eighth goal of the year, but the Tigers’ leading scorer left the match in stoppage time after colliding with Arroyo Grande keeper Elijah Herrera going after a loose ball.
Merino made sure the lead was short-lived with his curling free kick into the right side of the goal to give Arroyo Grande (5-4-2, 1-1-1) an uplifting result following a 2-1 loss to Righetti on Wednesday.
“We just hate losing,” Merino said. “We don’t want to go through that again.”
Arroyo Grande 1, San Luis Obispo 0
The Eagles walked off the pitch thinking they could have made more of their chances, but two of the season’s trends continued — a goal from Brianna Welch and none by the opponent.
“(Welch) got a good shot off, but we missed some good chances we should have scored,” Arroyo Grande coach Bob Wilson said. “We had some point blank chances that we just shot over the net.
“But the defense has been sound.”
Arroyo Grande (10-0-2, 2-0-1 PAC 8) has yielded only three goals all season and none in the past five games.
Welch scored her team-leading eighth goal in the 34th minute, corralling a pass from Josephine Graeber inside the 18-yard box and shielding her defender before turning to fire a shot into the far side of the goal.
“I think we could have put a few more away,” said Welch, who also has six assists, “but, overall, I think we played a good possession game, and we played as a team.”
The junior is a three-star recruit on TopDrawerSoccer.com, and made a commitment during her sophomore year to play at Pepperdine.
“I met the coach, and he’s super awesome,” Welch said. “He’s a Christian, and I’m a Christian, and the team has a great style of play. Overall, I just loved the school, the coaches and the players.”
Her first-half tally was all the cushion the defending league champion Eagles needed, as the backline of seniors Summer Soriano, Andrea Zachrich and Jane Summers and junior Demi Wack — along with senior center midfielder Rocio Romero — continued its suffocating play.
Arroyo Grande last conceded a goal Dec. 20 in a 2-2 tie with Capistrano Valley. Apart from that draw and a season-opening 2-1 win over Santa Ynez, it’s been all shutouts.
Hailey Block made five saves Friday for San Luis Obispo (2-5-1, 0-2), which had its best scoring opportunity in the 14th minute. Sydney Knauer’s free kick from 25 yards out was deflected on goal by Kelsey Shetler, but Samantha Henkel made the save, one of three she made for the Eagles.
After going 9-0-3 in league last year, the Eagles have not lost a PAC 8 contest since a 2-0 defeat to the Tigers on Jan. 11, 2013 — an unbeaten stretch of 22 consecutive matches.
“We’ve just got to take each game at a time,” Wilson said. “Each team that we’ve seen has had challenges we’ve had to meet. The competition in the league is tough.