With the elements working against the Arroyo Grande High boys soccer team in the first half Friday afternoon, the Eagles still managed to do all right.
By the time they had swayed to their advantage in the second half, it wasn’t even close.
At a wet and windy Doug Hitchen Stadium, Arroyo Grande scored three times in the second half for a 4-0 win over Santiago of Garden Grove to start the CIF-Southern Section Division 5 playoffs with a rout.
The Eagles, despite starting out trying to score in the face of strong gusts to the other direction, took a 1-0 lead just three minutes in when Pepe Fonseca found Christian Chora for a confidence-boosting goal. Santiago (14-5-2) had its chances before intermission but couldn’t capitalize.
“That was our goal,” Eagles midfielder Morgan Wack said. “We lost the coin flip so it was like, ‘OK, just hold them in the first half.’ Christian was able to score right off the bat, that got us ahead and we just didn’t look back.”
Given the circumstances, Arroyo Grande coach Brad Bowdey was satisfied to escape with the narrow lead, knowing his team had positioned itself well to pull away later.
“They were sending some balls in that were pretty good (in the first half),” Bowdey said. “We seemed like we were going uphill all first half (against the wind), but once we got through that one-nothing, we were going downhill and we were able to play a little differently.”
Less than four minutes into the second half, the Eagles went up 2-0 when Mario Herrera blasted a laser of a free kick into the net from 35 yards out.
“Wasn’t that amazing?” Bowdey said. “We’ve got full confidence in him to do things like that. That was a rocket. That was a hard ball to catch in the weather, that’s for sure. That goal pretty much took their fight out of them.”
Wack then tacked on a pair of insurance goals in the final 12 minutes, first following a shot by Chora and then tallying on an assist by Angel Rodriguez.
The Eagles (15-5-4) were coming off the emotional high of winning the program’s first league title since the 2004-05 season.
Boys soccer was the last winter-season sport to begin its divisional playoffs in the Southern Section. Thus, the Eagles had all week to prepare for the likely downpour and blustery conditions.
“We were looking forward to it,” Wack said. “It adds another aspect to the game. And we didn’t want to wait any longer. We’ve been waiting a week for this game. This is what we’ve been waiting for the whole year.”
On more than one occasion because of the storm, the ball would hang suspended in midair before turning back the other way; at other times, players stumbled with chunks of mud flying.
“We were prepared all week for it,” Bowdey said. “My assistant and I really tried to keep the energy positive, that this was an awesome day, (telling the players) ‘We’re just going to go out and have a blast, and you’ll remember this game as long as you live, and let’s go have some fun. Don’t worry about the weather. You can’t do anything about it.’ ”
Edgar Ramirez had seven saves in goal to preserve the shutout.
Arroyo Grande advanced to face either Carpinteria or El Monte in the second round at 3 p.m. Wednesday. If El Monte won that matchup, the Eagles would be guaranteed to travel; if Carpinteria won, a Southern Section coin flip would be used to determine the second-round host site.
“We were looking to send a statement, and that’s what we did,” Wack said of the score. “We can go all the way with this team, I think, if we pass like that and we play with heart and desire like that.”