Sacred Heart Prep took a big step toward winning its sixth straight West Bay Athletic League boys' soccer title with a 1-0 triumph over rival Menlo School on a rainy Friday afternoon.
Seniors Ricky Grau and Isaac Polkinhorne combined on the only goal in the first half, with Grau getting the tally as the host Gators improved to 10-0 in league (11-4-1 overall) while the Knights fell to 7-2-1 (9-4-3).
"I'm especially proud of our team for defending set pieces so well, which was our main priority today," said SHP coach Armando del Rio, who is 46-1-5 in league play in his fourth season. "We also did solidly defended counter attacks well. Those were the two areas I felt they could score.
"Our first 20 minutes with our most confident soccer in taking the initiative and it paid off because we scored the winner. I didn't like how we seemed to get comfortable afterwards but, at the same time, we knew we could park the bus if needed."
Sacred Heart Prep continued its winning streak against Menlo. Since the teams joined the WBAL in 2009, the Gators are 10-0-2 against the Knights during regular-season play. That streak might have been in jeopardy on Friday, given the wet weather.
"The weather conditions added unpredictability," del Rio said, "and I think this team has character, grit and blue collar mentality and are built for these games to grind out positively."
With four matches remaining, SHP has 30 points while second-place Menlo has 22. If both teams win their next match, the Gators can win their sixth straight title next Friday against Eastside Prep.
Menlo, meanwhile, looked flustered by the inclement weather from the kickoff and the Gators quickly took advantage. After a long throw Sacred Heart served a cross to the far post and Grau rose first to head it into the side netting for the early lead. Menlo settled in after the goal and senior captain John Strong looked to have equalized only to have it called back for offsides.
The Knights started the second half strongly and pressured Sacred Heart on a few occasions, but were unable to find the equalizer. Senior captain Justin Wang and forward Kevin Walker each had chances in the dying minutes, but were unable to convert. Sophomores Andrew Arnold, Michael Quezada, Keaton Shiveley and Tyler McGraw had strong performances for Menlo in the losing effort.
In the SCVAL De Anza Division, Palo Alto fell behind the leaders following a 2-1 loss to host Mountain View. The Vikings (2-4-4, 6-7-5) started the scoring on a blocked shot from Cina Vazir, which was followed up by Rueben Kramer, who placed it over the Mountain View keeper up in the right hand corner. Kramer had two other near goals that were blocked by the Mt. View keeper. After that, Paly and Mt. View traded near scoring shots.
The second half turned with the wind with Paly playing mostly on its half with a few counter attacks. A game-changer occurred when a handball was called on a Paly defender away from the goal. Brad Bumgarner converted for the Spartans, making the score 1-1.
The energized Spartans pushed hard for the next five minutes with Paly keeper Tony Maharaj making several nice saves. Mountain View's second goal came after several corner kicks were cleared. The final corner led to two consecutive shots that were deflected away. The last deflection went to the top of the box and Logan Allen, a defender, hit a powerful volley into the upper-right corner for the winning margin.
Paly nearly evened the score when Fernando Rogriguez was fouled in the box. An indirect was awarded from 16 yards out. Paly's restart went over the cross bar and time ran out.
"This was a very competitive game against one of the two top teams in the league," said Paly coach Don Briggs.
Mountain View remains in second place, just behind Los Gatos. Paly remains somewhere in the middle depending on other games played Friday. The Vikings began the day in fourth place.
In the PAL Bay Division, Menlo-Atherton lost ground behind first-place Woodside as the Bears (6-2-2, 9-3-2) dropped a 1-0 decision to host San Mateo.
Gunn won its fifth straight SCVAL El Camino Division soccer match with a 2-0 victory over host Lynbrook on Friday afternoon. The Titans (7-2-1, 10-3-2) grabbed a 1-0 halftime lead as Caroline Anderson scored off an assist from Natalie Perreault.
Gunn picked up an insurance goal in the second half when Kastania Dahlen scored off an assist from Jessica Hall.
In the SCVAL De Anza Division, Palo Alto's title hopes took a big hit in a 2-1 loss to visiting Mountain View. The Vikings fell to 5-2-3 in league (8-4-4 overall) while the Spartans improved to 5-0-4 (8-2-5) while moving ahead of Paly and into a tie for second place. The Vikings, meanwhile, dropped from second to fourth.
Mountain View grabbed a 2-0 lead at halftime on goals by Danna Weintraub before Paly climbed back on a goal by Jacey Pederson.
With two league matches left, Paly is still playing for one of the division's three automatic berths into the Central Coast Section playoffs.