M. Soccer: Nic Escalante scores three times in Falcon win

Nic Escalante (9) lines up his second of three goals to lead the Falcons to a 4-0 playoff win over Santa Ana.
Nic Escalante (9) lines up his second of three goals to lead the Falcons to a 4-0 playoff win over Santa Ana.

Cerritos College freshman forward Nicholas Escalante (California HS) scored a natural hat trick to lead the team to a 4-0 win over visiting Santa Ana College in the 2nd Round of the Southern California Regional Playoffs on Tuesday. The win by the #2-seeded Falcons (14-5-3) advances them to the Elite Eight, where they will host #3-seeded Mt. San Antonio (18-3-1) on Saturday. The game could be played at either 11:00 a.m. or 2:00 p.m., depending on the outcome of the Falcons women's game tomorrow. A win by the women would mean the men's game is at 11:00 a.m., and a loss would lock the game at 2:00 p.m.

Although Cerritos and #10-seeded Santa Ana (13-5-5) hadn't faced each other since the 2007 playoffs, there was a three-year period where the two teams had one of the most heated rivalries in the state. In 2005, the Falcons lost to the Dons in the state championship game, while they came back the next year to eliminate Santa Ana on their way to the program's first state title. In 2007, the Dons defeated Cerritos, 2-1 in the 3rd Round, which sent them to the state tournament.

"The coaching staff talked to the players before the game about the history between these two teams," said head coach Benny Artiaga. "Even though none of the players were here then, we wanted them to approach the game with as much intensity as we did back when we were facing them in the playoffs every year."

Niether team would score the first 45 minutes, but freshman Jose Espinoza (Salesian HS) had two very good chances to get on the scoreboard. His tip shot off a pass was just wide of the net in the ninth minute, while his bicycle kick in the 22nd minute sailed over the net.

But the chances continued to come for Cerritos, and they finally scored, which went on to become three goals in the span of seven minutes to open an insurmountable lead. In the 52nd minute, freshman Mario Guerrero (University HS) fed a pass to sophomore Dominic Escobar (Roosevelt HS), whose bending shot found the lower corner of the net past Dons goalkeeper Chris Martinez for the first goal.

After that, it was all Escalante, who scored three straight goals, with the help of a Santa Ana defender on his first. Just two minutes after taking the lead, sophomore Gerardo Soto (Salesian HS) lofted a ball into a cluster of players in the box, where Escalante redirected the ball into the net. It appeared to have possibly hit a Santa Ana defender, but Escalante was credited with the goal. Not more than five minutes later, Escalate beat Martinez once again, and there was no question, as he drilled a one-timer off a header pass from sophomore Daniel Garcia (Artesia HS).

The Falcons added a fourth goal in the final minutes of the game, as Escalate tapped the ball past back-up goalkeeper Jose Garcia after receiving a pass from Escobar. Cerritos goalkeeper Benito Gonzalez (Long Beach Wilson HS) recorded the shutout and made three saves.

Photo by Daryl Peterson