Journey sweetens Santa Barbara boys' soccer success

It has been a long, tough haul for the Santa Barbara High School boys' soccer team the last three weeks, and that's just the drive. The Dons have spent so much time on the road since the prep soccer playoffs began Feb. 18 that head coach Todd Heil and one of his classes started adding up the miles Thursday.

Would you believe 1,400?

Consider trips south to Los Alamitos (240 miles roundtrip), San Juan Capistrano (302) and San Diego (419), plus two to Warren High School in Downey (215), where Santa Barbara on Friday night received its reward.

A comprehensive 3-0 triumph over Oak Hills of Hesperia in the CIF Southern California Regional Championship Division II final took the sting out of last weekend's loss to San Clemente in the Southern Section Division 1 title game and promised a festive drive home.

The Dons' impeccable possession game and superb backline play to diminish Oak Hills' long-ball tactics made for a one-sided encounter, determined on first-half Sanford Spivey goals six minutes apart and a late finish by Edgar Ruiz. It's the school's first regional triumph -- the tournament is in its fourth year -- to go with six Southern Section titles.

Does it make up for not winning a seventh six days earlier?

“I would say yes,” said Spivey, a Boston University-bound midfielder who converted a 25th-minute penalty kick after a James McKee hand ball, then headed Cooper Allebrand's cross from the right wing inside the left post in the 31st “The feeling I'm having right now is telling me yes. It's a great feeling. Would have been nice to win last week, but, I mean, we won regionals, which is great, too.”

The road to the triumph wasn't easy. The Dons (21-6-5) won twice in overtime and advanced to the final on penalties during the Southern Section playoffs. They then needed penalties to knock off Canoga Park in a regional first-rounder, trekked to San Diego to topple University City in the semis.

That's eight games in 22 days, four in the past seven, all that travel, and if Santa Barbara was exhausted -- and it was -- it didn't show Friday night.

“These boys … my hat goes off to them,” Heil said. “It was a quick turnaround. Saturday night [after the loss to San Clemente], we got home at midnight, and then we have to prep for [Monday's game against] Canoga Park, who's been out for two weeks resting [since its elimination from the CIF L.A. City Section playoffs], and, boy, were we tired for that game.

“But I felt tonight we had a lot of energy. We were very excited to get here, even though we were stuck in traffic for two hours. But incredibly excited to get here, and I think the performance showed that.”

Spivey, who scored Santa Barbara's goal in the 2-1 loss to San Clemente (which faces Buchanan, from Clovis, in the regional Division I final Saturday), said last week's loss “gave us huge motivation. We said we've got to win something, so we came out this week and had the goal to get here and try to make an effort to win this.”

Heil called it “a little bit bigger, a little more special” than a Southern Section championship -- and that it will define this year's team.

“This is something this team can stake its claim to. It's something different,” he said. “The tradition we have -- such a good soccer program at Santa Barbara High, the tradition from the '70s to the '80s to the '90s … so this is something different. No other Santa Barbara High program has it, and it's theirs.”

In the Division II girls final:

Coronado 3, La Jolla 0: Ali Culora scored in the first minute, Katie Centeno made it 2-0 in the 26th and Mary Braun added a second-half goal to lead the Islanders (15-6-4) in the all-San Diego Section final.