The two best high school soccer teams in the City Section, if not Southern California, fought to a 1-1 draw after regulation, two overtime periods and two five-minute golden goal periods, forcing Birmingham and EL Camino Real players to line up at midfield, lock arms and prepare for the drama of penalty kicks to decide the Division I championship.
Four consecutive times on a hot Thursday afternoon in Lake Balboa, El Camino Real players scored goals. Four consecutive times, Birmingham players responded with their own goals. These two evenly matched teams refused to yield even when players were dropping with cramps from exhaustion and heat.
Then everything changed. Birmingham goalie Anthony Martinez was clapping his hands when he anticipated the ball would be headed left and made the stop. Maika Apana-Bates then stepped forward and put the winning shot into the net for a 5-4 edge, starting a wild victory celebration for the Patriots (16-0-1).
“We’ve been practicing penalty kicks and it comes down to focusing and trusting yourself,” Birmingham’s Cristian Moran said.
The two teams battled to a 2-2 tie in their West Valley League finale, and this match was almost a repeat. The Conquistadores turned to Cal-bound Santiago Hopkins, who scored off a corner kick with a header in the first half. He also was assigned to shadow Birmingham standout David Diaz, who was held scoreless. Hopkins put Birmingham repeatedly on the defensive with his impressive throw-in skills.
El Camino Real seemed poised to win 1-0 when the Conquistadores were called for a hand ball inside the 18-yard penalty box. That gave the scoring opportunity to Anthony Miron, who put the penalty shot into the net for a 1-1 tie late in the second half. “I work best under pressure,” Miron said.
Birmingham was in attack mode the entire second half. The game was intense but the sportsmanship was also visible. Miron helped El Camino Real’s Roberto Apolinar, a club teammate, limp off the field. “He’s my brother,” Miron said.
The two teams could have been playing long into the night until penalty kicks were required to end the game. “It’s the best feeling I’ve had,” Martinez said.
Birmingham and El Camino Real will both advance to the Southern California Division 1 soccer regionals.