A season-long bugaboo came back to haunt The Master’s College Saturday afternoon when Vanguard scored twice in the match’s first 15 minutes and went on to shut out the Mustangs 2-0 in the GSAC Tournament championship game.
The defeat spoiled the fifth-seeded Mustangs’ exciting run through the conference tournament, which had produced two upsets, and ended their season at 11-9-1.
Prior to Saturday’s title match, the Mustangs had allowed eight opponents to score first within the opening 15 minutes of play, losing five of those contests. Ironically, one of those early-game goals came against Vanguard in a regular-season match on October 15 that the Mustangs bounced back from to score three unanswered goals in a 3-1 victory.
Unfortunately, there would be no replication of that on Saturday as the Lions took advantage of a penalty kick at the 6:34 mark, after a hand ball call in the box, that Jesus Fregoso converted for a 1-0 lead. The goal capped off a flurry of Lion shots in the game’s opening minutes.
Then, just over eight minutes later (15:07), the Lions doubled their advantage when Juan Arellano, off a Luis Valdivia pass from the right side, launched a shot from the left corner of the box past Mustang keeper Kyle Cunningham (Saugus, CA) and into the net.
Remarkably, that was the final shot on goal during a first half in which an aggressive Lion defense kept the Mustangs from even attempting one.
That changed in the first five minutes of the second half when freshman striker Humphrey Mahowa (Malawi, Africa) almost brought the Mustangs all the way back, just missing on a pair of shots, a header at 47:32 and another shot at 49:27.
In fast-paced, back-and-forth action, Cunningham kept the Mustangs close, saving an Arellano shot at 54:33 while Mahowa almost halved the deficit at the 59:20 mark when Lion goalie Brandon Gomez turned back the GSAC Player of the Year once again.
The Mustangs never really threatened again except for a Brett Croft (Hesperia, CA) shot that went wide with 4:16 left to play. Cunningham recorded his final save of the season at the 87:44 mark.
It was a bittersweet end to a remarkable campaign for the Mustangs who began the season losing their first four matches before turning things around by winning nine of 12 matches en route to a GSAC Tournament championship appearance.