Mira Monte coach Ben Warren knew what the eventual turning point was in the record-setting season for his boys soccer team.
Unfortunately, it was a turn for the worst in the first state playoff game ever played inside Mira Monte's stadium.
With six minutes left on the clock in the CIF State Southern California Division IV regional playoff opener against No. 6 Hesperia, two Lions players were ejected from the match with red-card violations.
That left No. 3 Mira Monte playing with two less players on the field in a 2-1 contest. The Scorpions then tacked on three goals in the final minutes to close things out in a 5-1 victory.
“The score is not really a reflection of that game,” Warren said. “It was a lot more competitive.”
Hesperia, the Southern Section D-V runners-up, scored first in the 38th minute on a goal by Cesar Roque to take a 1-0 lead into halftime.
Despite the Lions controlling momentum most of the first 70 minutes of the match, Mira Monte didn’t score the equalizer until sophomore standout Jonathan Alvarenga scored his 32nd goal of the season in the 68th minute.
Alvarenga’s goal was taken from 25 feet out and sailed over the head of Scorpions’ goalkeeper Adrien Gallardo.
Less than a minute later, however, Hesperia (21-6-5) retook the lead at 2-1 on a goal by German Mejia.
That’s when it got out of control for the Lions.
Minutes later, two players were red-carded and Anthony Higuera scored his first of two goals in the 74th minute on the ensuing penalty kick.
“When we equalized it at 1-1, I thought we were in control,” Warren said. “They countered quickly and scored two. I thought we were still in it until the PK call. I didn’t agree with the call, then players lost their heads and got red (cards). You can’t come back from two goals back with two players down.”
The day began with a lot of fun and festivities for Mira Monte.
Eleven days after the Lions (25-3-4) defeated Lindsey 1-0 for the Central Section D-IV title — the first section title in any sport for Mira Monte — Warren allowed his players to shave the hair off the top of his head, leaving him with just inch-long hair on the sides.
The playful manner was part of a rally on the school campus celebrating the season for the Lions after Warren said he would let his players cut his hair however they liked if they won a section title.
“We were at a high,” Warren said. “We accomplished our goal when we won Valley. State is something we are extremely excited to be at. We wanted to win. I believe we could beat this team. I was fully confident we could get the job done.”
On the field, Mira Monte had plenty of opportunities to score, but Gallardo recorded 10 saves for the Scorpions.
“That is one of our best players,” Hesperia coach Luis Luviano said. “This boy lives, breathes (soccer) and wakes up in the morning with his cleats and gloves on. He’s that type of player. He is very dedicated to the game.”
The loss ended the most successful season in any sport at Mira Monte, a school that opened 10 years ago. And that fact was not lost on Warren after the match.
“I am excited about what they did. I am proud of them,” Warren said. “They did a great job and did some really nice things. They are Valley champions. The first time in school history. They should be proud of themselves for that.”