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Placer soccer headed to final

Defense stretches shutout streak to 10 games as De La Barra’s first-half goal is enough
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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By Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor Peter Kean admits he wasn’t sure how the Placer High soccer team’s defense would hold up this fall with two raw freshmen and a new goalkeeper in the net. Things have turned out historically good for the Hillmen. They held off Antelope 1-0 Thursday to earn a trip to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship game Saturday. Placer will face Natomas at Cosumnes Oaks at 2 p.m. Junior Benjamin De La Barra got his head on a corner kick from Ulises Bautista and knocked it into the net late in the first half. Placer’s defense did the rest, posting its 10th straight shutout. “I’m actually really surprised at how good we’ve been,” said Kean, a junior who plays left back. “Every game we’ve just played solid. On defense we make smart decisions back there and don’t do anything stupid.” The Hillmen had several chances to bury the Titans. They had three dangerous attacks in the first 10 minutes, including a header from junior Brennan Entz that sailed just wide of the goal. Entz created another great opportunity in the second half, but Antelope goalkeeper Michael Kramer made a diving save to keep his team in the game. Placer senior Ulises Arellano helped preserve the win with a couple of fine saves of his own. He denied the Titans a goal with a point-blank save midway through the first half. With Antelope charging in the second half, Arellano snared dangerous crosses out of the air and made two diving saves. “We lost our identity at the end there,” Placer coach Mark Miller said. “I think the excitement got to us.” Placer (19-2-4) is headed to the section title game for the first time in school history. The Hillmen won the Pioneer Valley League crown earlier this season for their first league banner since 1994. Miller let out a hoot as he left the field and senior Eddie Santamaria doused him with a bucket of water in the team huddle. It was a celebration that seemed highly unlikely two months ago. “We went and played McClatchy (to start the season) and I thought, ‘We’re going to have a struggle this year,’” Miller said. “But our defensive record is phenomenal. I don’t even know how long it’s been since we gave up a goal. Now that we’re in the final, I think we’ve got a chance.” Placer has not given up a goal since a 1-0 loss to Foothill back on Sept. 29. Meanwhile the offense has gotten a huge boost from De La Barra, a Chilean exchange student who scored his 22nd goal of the year on Thursday. The Hillmen also have youth on their side. Freshman Nikolai Figueroa has been tremendous at sweeper all season and freshman right back Adam Norcott is a rock. Freshman Shawn Green adds punch on the front line. Natomas knocked off top-seeded Rio Americano 2-1 on Thursday. The Nighthawks (10-6-2) finished third in the Tri-County League.