By Jeremy Balan
So many of Lowell High School’s wins in the past two seasons have been blowouts, but the Cardinals were pushed to the brink again in the Academic Athletic Association championship game on Saturday.
Lowell rallied back from an early 1-0 deficit, then withstood a frenetic push from Lincoln in the final minutes of a 2-1 win at Boxer Stadium.
The win not only gives the Cardinals (20-0) their second-consecutive AAA title, but also extended Lowell’s league win streak to 38.
Lowell senior Jesus Sanchez broke a 1-1 tie in the 51st minute, when he outran the Lincoln defense on a long clearance from Lowell defender Edgar Torres. Sanchez was alone on a breakaway with Lincoln goalkeeper Martin Arreola, who slid in to make a save on Sanchez’s first shot, but the rebound bounced directly back to Sanchez, who kneed the ball into the open net.
“I was at midfield and I saw [the defender] two feet behind me,” Sanchez said. “I knew that if I got a long ball, I would smoke him.”
The desperate Mustangs responded with a late surge, but just could not get the ball past Lowell senior goalkeeper Eduardo Camacho.
The best chance Lincoln had to equalize came in the 77th minute, on a play that was as exciting as it was frantic.
Lincoln senior Kendall Kwan chipped a picture-perfect ball from the right wing that fell just below the crossbar, but Camacho leaped up to knock the ball away. The ball caromed out into the Lowell penalty area, where another Lincoln player sent a shot on net, only to be saved by a Lowell defender on the goal line. Again, the ball went out into a scrum of players in the penalty area, and the Mustangs sent another shot on net. Out of position, Camacho again leaped to punch the ball out of harm’s way.
“It was pretty crazy,” Camacho said. “I actually wasn’t thinking that much. Like my coach says, I do better when I don’t think. It was mostly reaction and I tried to save my team from going into overtime.”
Camacho had six total saves, but none were as important as the four he had in the final 17 minutes.
“It was like time stood still,” said Lowell head coach Marcos Estebez. “Eduardo was unbelievable. I’ve never seen that kind of athletic play from him. Today he was brilliant.”
After Lincoln took an early lead in the eighth minute on junior Felipe Herrera’s second goal of the postseason, the Cardinals answered in the 30th.
Lowell junior defender Avery Fisher sent a high-arcing free kick into the penalty area from midfield and the Lincoln defense converged on Lowell standout senior forward Cameron BaSaing.
The ball sailed over BaSaing’s head, however, and Lowell sophomore Aaron Moye found himself all alone with Arreola.
Moye calmly collected the ball and buried it into the right side of the net.
As the final whistle sounded, Lowell erupted into jubilation while the Mustangs (13-5-1) appeared somber and frustrated.
“It hurts,” said Lincoln head coach Kenyatta Scott. “We amped up the pressure in the last 10 minutes to try to pop one in and we had six chances. It just didn’t happen.”
Estebez has yet to lose a game in his first two seasons at the helm of the varsity program, but could face his greatest challenge next year replacing nine key seniors.
“[Winning every game] is the goal, but we’re going to use so many seniors this year, it’s probably unrealistic,” Estebez said. “Our goal next year will be to get to the playoffs. Then we’ll see what happens.”