Branden Dolezal played a role for the San Luis Obispo High School boys soccer team he wasn’t used to Thursday afternoon against Dos Pueblos.
After sustaining an ankle injury a few weeks ago and sitting out for three games, the Tigers’ top goal scorer started the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 first-round playoff game on the bench.
Without him, the Tigers still looked every bit like the back-to-back PAC 8 champions.
Freshman Moises Hernandez led a counter-attack with speed and a slick combo with senior Cole Broome-Hanvey, who finished it off with a goal to make it 1-0 eight minutes into the game.
Then Dolezal entered the game and picked up right where he left off. The sophomore scored his 14th goal of the season on a header to make it 2-0 a few minutes later.
“I felt 100 percent,” Dolezal said. “I’ve been putting in all the work to get back as soon as possible.”
SLO High went on to score two more goals in the first half to defeat Dos Pueblos 4-0.
“I was actually nervous coming into the game. A 3:30 kickoff is something we haven’t done all year,” SLO High coach James Boscaro said of the game that was originally scheduled to be played Friday but was changed because of weather concerns. “I just challenged them. I said the first five minutes can set the tone, and they came out flying.”
Four minutes after Dolezal’s goal, junior Tristan Torres put the Tigers up 3-0. SLO High capped the first half with a measured free-kick goal from senior Noa Tomaszewski.
The win sets up a potential matchup with Godinez, the No. 1 seed in Division 2, in round two. Godinez is scheduled to play Fontana at 6 p.m. Friday. Thanks to a coin flip, SLO High will host Wednesday at 5 p.m. regardless of the outcome.
“We know our field. Home-field advantage is huge for us, so I’m excited for our next game,” Boscaro said. “Our goal is not to win a couple games in (the playoffs), our goal is to win (a championship). So if (Godinez) are the No. 1-seed, we would have to beat them eventually. So we might as well do it now and get them on our home field.”
Boscaro said his mix of young playmakers in Dolezal and Hernandez, paired with the experience of his seniors, gives the team a good chance. Last year, the Tigers held their own against Cathedral, the No. 1 seed in Division 1 this season, before being knocked out of the Division 3 playoffs on a golden goal in overtime.
Dolezal said the blueprint to the upset played out on the muddy field Thursday.
“We need to do the same as today,” Dolezal said. “We need to get a goal early, put them on their backs and not let them score.”