SAN FRANCISCO — The Bellarmine soccer team won its third consecutive CCS Open Division title, a section championship for a fourth year in a row and the 21st time in program history. This one may have been more special than the others that preceded it.
Between the pandemic-delayed season, quality of competition that Sacred Heart Cathedral provided and the fact that they won their final game a few hours before graduating, Friday’s win at the Beach Chalet Fields was about so much more than just cementing the Bells’ status as the premier soccer program on the central coast.
“I dreamt about it last night,” said Yoni Aidlberg, who scored the game’s first goal. “Walking down that stage with that trophy is gonna be awesome.”
Aidlberg’s 34th-minute goal off a counterattack and a feed from Uriel Morales put Bellarmine (12-0-2) on top, and it held up as the game-winner as the reigning champions were able to establish the pace and prevent the high-octane Fightin’ Irish from ever mounting a serious challenge.
“I was talking to my coaches on the way up and said that if we could shut these guys out, that would be an incredible game. The fact that our guys actually did that is impressive,” Bellarmine head coach Conor Salcido said. “They’re the best team we’ve faced all year.”
Unlike last Wednesday’s WCAL championship, in which Sacred Heart Cathedral (8-1-1) scored early before winning in an 11-round penalty kick shootout, the Bells were able to dictate the pace from the outset.
“When they score early and they start dictating the game, you’re already behind the 8-ball. Last week, they came out so hot that our guys were on our heels and they dictated the game. We switched to a 4-2-1-2-1 with our point man being there, and we didn’t have a point man the last time we played them. That made a huge difference,” Salcido explained. “We felt OK going into half 0-0, but the fact that we got that goal right before the end was huge.”
Bellarmine never relented with the pressure, only allowing two substantial scoring chances on the day. Michael Macias saved Barry Cahalane’s header off a free kick in the 26th minute, and Diego Grande’s free kick in second-half stoppage time went just over the crossbar.
Even if Grande had connected, it would have only cut the lead in half. The Bells had taken a 2-0 lead in the 70th minute on a shot by Seiji Matsuda, who has established himself as an ultra-clutch playoff performer in the past two years.
“I don’t score during league play and then I score a lot during the playoffs,” said Matsuda, who is committed to continue his career at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, where he’ll compete in the Northeast Conference. “My teammate wanted the ball, but I decided to shoot it and it ended up pretty well.”
Senior defender Paxton Hall added a penalty kick goal in the ninth minute of second half stoppage time for good measure, starting the celebrations before the final whistle had even blown.
“Even though he doesn’t have a captain’s band, I’ve always viewed him as a captain, and he’s been an incredible leader,” Salcido said. “The fact that he stepped up to put the final goal on the scoreboard was amazing.”
Salcido, a 2007 Bellarmine graduate, was urged by the bench to let Hall take the kick instead of one of the forwards, and his approval represented the close relationship that he maintains with his players.
“He knows what it means to be a Bellarmine grad, and I think he really embodies that,” Aidlberg said. “His sense of humor is amazing, his tactical ability is amazing and he’s just a fun guy.”
Rather than simply take championship photos with teammates, almost every player on the roster made a point of getting a photo with Salcido and the trophy. While section titles are nothing new for Bellarmine, this one carries extra significance.
“We all took this season as a huge blessing, and for our guys to make a short season go as long as possible, that’s super special,” Salcido said.
In 2020, the team quickly traveled from Santa Clara to Stanford after defeating Sacred Heart Prep in the championship game, proudly displaying the trophy within the student section while supporting the Bellarmine basketball team in their own section title game. This time, the trophy was on display in front of the graduating class.
“We never get to do that; we’re a winter sport,” Salcido added. “We’re usually done in March.”
While the circumstances that necessitated playing the championship game in late May were unfortunate, it certainly created a phenomenal set of memories that the Bells will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Fightin’ Irish found themselves short of a section title despite winning the WCAL for a second year in a row. In 2020, they were upended by Menlo-Atherton on penalty kicks in the Open Division quarterfinals. The 2021 squad hadn’t tasted defeat in the abbreviated season until Friday’s game.
“Bellarmine played really well. They were deserved winners,” SHC head coach Mike McNeill said. “We were the better team in the WCAL final, and they definitely came out and gave it to us today. They pressed really well and made it difficult for us to play our game. They forced us to go long, which really isn’t something we’ve done.”
While the loss marked the end of the road for a senior class headlined by Grande and goalie Zachary Thomas, the Irish do have a remarkably young team, including freshman Cruz Medina and sophomores Donovan Brasch, Alastair Howarth, Angel Iniguez and Donte Yasukawa.
“They played well all season, and we have a really special group of young players,” McNeill said.
Considering SHC’s youth and Bellarmine’s ability to consistently produce top teams, it would be fair to expect the two teams to link up again in future league and section championship games, albeit under much more conventional parameters.
Leigh 3, Lincoln 1
The BVAL-Mount Hamilton rivals were seeded just fifth (Lincoln) and seventh (Leigh) in Division 1, but advanced to meet in the CCS final. Leigh captured its third CCS title in school history and second in the past three seasons under coach and alum Thomas Murdick.
Sacred Heart Prep 3, Evergreen Valley 1
After knocking off league rival Branham in the semifinals, the Cougars were unable to capture their first CCS title at home against the Gators.
The teams were tied 0-0 at halftime, but the Gators took a 1-0 lead early in the second half on a goal by Kyle Nilsson on assists from Chase Dolinko and Tristan Mische-Reed.
Dolinko extended the lead with a penalty kick with about 10 minutes remaining after Nilsson was fouled in the penalty area.
Evergreen Valley got a goal back on a penalty with three minutes left, but the Gators put the game away with an unassisted goal by Luke Maxwell in the final minutes. It was the seventh CCS title for Sacred Heart Prep and first outright since 2006.
Mt. Pleasant 5, San Mateo 2
A year ago, Mt. Pleasant's CCS title hopes ended in penalty kicks in the Division 2 championship, but a year later, senior captain Ricardo Tovar Herrera led the Cardinals to their first-ever outright title with a hat trick. Mt. Pleasant, which led 3-0 at halftime, also got goals from Devin Brown and Brian Hernandez.
Harbor 2, Carmel 1
In a matchup of first-time CCS finalists, the Pirates scored two second-half goals to come from behind and earn the school's first CCS championship.