By Matthew Snyder
Before the season began, Leadership High School had not won a boys soccer championship since it opened its doors in 1997.
Now, it has the chance to win two titles in 16 days.
After winning the Bay Counties League Central championship on Oct. 25, the Griffins earned a spot in the North Coast Section Division III championship game with a 2-1 win over South Fork in the section semifinals on Wednesday at Kezar Stadium.
The fourth-seeded Griffins (8-5-4) will make 2-hour trip north to face second-seeded Anderson Valley in the championship game on Saturday.
“Our guys showed up a little bit lazy, but I’m happy that we pulled away a win,” said Leadership head coach Greg Perieff. “When it came down to it, we were only holding the lead by one goal at the end and they got corner kick after corner kick. I think it really paid off that we’d worked so hard on defending [corner kicks] during practice this week.”
Senior forward Eduardo Sanchez scored both of Leadership’s goals, sending in deft, chipped finishes in the 14th and 24th minutes, but it was junior goalkeeper David Venegas – recently named first-team All-BCL Central – that saved the day and the Griffins’ season.
After 80 minutes of game time, Venegas finished with six saves, including several acrobatic stops.
“This guy – my keeper right here – he’s just amazing. He’s fantastic,” Perieff said. “His positioning is excellent, he really understands how to dive and how to make saves. Sometimes the stuff that he pulls off – it’s a little bit scary for me on the sideline, but we’re happy that we had him on the team.”
At least four of Venegas’s saves came against speedy South Fork forward David Beebe, whose dynamic attacking play was a thorn in Leadership’s side during both halves. Beebe scored the lone South Fork (6-12) goal in the 63rd minute.
Leadership was without senior defender Mauricio Martinez, a team captain and leading defender. Martinez pulled his hamstring in the Griffins’ first-round NCS victory over Summerfield Waldorf, and has not played in the two games since.
Forced to adapt to Beebe’s attacking prowess on the fly without his best defender, Perieff decided to allocate two defenders to Beebe for almost the entire game.
“We were trying to bracket him, using our outside midfielder and our fullback,” Perieff said. “We tried to have one guy on top of him and one guy always covering him, and having those two guys work in tandem together.”
In the end, though, it was Venegas who had the final say in stopping Beebe.
“I just saw him, and he was doing the same thing. He was coming with his left foot. He was all left-footed, so I knew for my positioning I needed to shift to the left,” Venegas said. “I saw him and told my defenders to keep an eye on him. They were getting lazy a little bit on the line, but we pulled it off in the end.”