By Jeremy Balan
In its first season since the retirement of legendary coach Ernie Feibusch, Lowell High School proved it is in good hands, as the Cardinals and first-year head coach Marcos Estebez completed an undefeated season with a 3-1 win over Balboa in the Academic Athletic Association championship on Saturday at Boxer Stadium.
It is Lowell’s (18-0) first AAA title since 2004.
“It’s an extraordinary start,” Estebez said. “It’s just, how did Feibusch do this for 44 years? I’m barely standing after one.”
After the Lowell offense sputtered in the semifinal round against O’Connell, it was senior co-captain Carlos Valadez who provided the opening strike in the 20th minute.
Valadez lined up a free kick from about 35 yards out and delivered a ball into the top half of the net, over the head of Balboa goalkeeper Carlos Orellano.
“I just shot it. I tried to take a nice hard shot toward the goal,” Valadez said. “It gave us a lift to begin our attack.”
While Lowell controlled much of the first half, the Cardinals could not cash in on another goal until the 65th minute, when freshman Aaron Moye connected on a shot from 15 yards out after a push up field by senior Penn Scoble.
Balboa would cut the lead to 2-1 on a penalty kick by Zack Hafalia, but when Lowell needed another big play, it was Valadez again, this time sending another free kick to junior Camilo Grabowski, who tapped in the crossing pass on the back post.
“We hammered them at halftime to send diagonal passes to the far post, because we couldn’t do it feet-to-feet against their fast midfield,” Estebez said. “Finally there was someone there, who was supposed to be there, to put it in.”
Even though the Bucs (10-7-1) had a goal on the penalty kick, the Balboa attack just could not seem to make the most of their opportunities, mostly due to a Lowell defense that had only allowed three goals this season.
“We had the opportunities, we were just unlucky the ball didn’t go in,” said Balboa head coach Wentworth Houston. “Then when they scored that second goal, it really hurt our players. That was like the nail in the coffin.”
For Balboa, which hasn’t won a AAA title since 1981, the appearance in the championship game is something to build upon, as the Bucs will return 18 varsity players next season.
“[Lowell] has developed a program over the years, where their players are recognized across the state,” Houston said. “We are proud that we are here, and if we continue to build a program, we will be right there.”
L: 20th minute — Carlos Valadez
L: 65th minute — Aaron Moye
B: 74th minute — Zack Hafalia
L: 76th minute — Camilo Grabowski
Slideshow by AJ Canaria