Desert Hot Springs High School hadn’t lost by more than a single goal since Dec. 12 against La Quinta. Not even the reigning California Interscholastic Federation champs at Desert Mirage High could defeat the Golden Eagles by more than a goal during a strong second half of the regular season that led to Desert Hot Springs’ first playoff victory in four years.
But any thoughts of a potential playoff run ended Wednesday with a 2-0 second round loss to Nogales, the top seed in Division 6.
DHS had a shot to take an early lead, holding possession and taking multiple shots in goal in the early going, yet couldn’t manage to get the ball past the Nogales keeper, Alberto Sanchez. Then, off a throw-in 26 minutes into the game, Gabriel Castillo managed to sneak the ball past Golden Eagles keeper Jose Felix to quiet a home crowd of more than 150 in Desert Hot Springs.
The initial momentum swing is all that Nobles needed. Nogales seemed to control possession for much of the rest of the first half, before scoring again when Andrew Carrazco tossed the ball in from the sideline and the ball bounced off a crowd of players and into the goal just beyond Felix’s reach.
By the intermission, the score was 2-0 and, despite the crowd, DHS appeared shell-shocked. The Nobles had snatched the lead and the momentum, and any short of comeback would be an uphill battle, particularly with winds exceeding 35 mph.
“That’s the nature of the game,” DHS head coach Angel Fragoso said. “They had, I think, just two, three, maybe four shots in total and they put two of them away.”
Nogales added a third goal that was negated due to offsides, which kept DHS (12-11-3) within striking distance into the second half.
Into the latter portion of the second half, the Golden Eagles continued pushing the ball and nearly brought the game within a goal. Hector Soto pushed the tempo with the ball at his feet, and Jesus Ruiz had a pair of shots that nearly sailed past the goalie.
In one instance, Ruiz fired the ball off his foot from 20 yards out. Had it not been for Sanchez, his 6-foot-2 frame and long fingers, the game would have been even more interesting in the final minutes.
“I tell my guys that we can’t let anybody score on us, even if we have a lead,” Nogales head coach Javier Aguiniga said. “That was important for us tonight.”
After the game, coaches and players stood in a circle. Tears were shed. Arms wrapped around shoulders. Coaches told players they had never seen a crowd as big at one of their games. Fragoso said he’s never been more proud of a team he’s coached.
“You guys played your heart out until you had nothing left,” he told them. “be proud of that.”
Nogales will now advance to play La Canada in the CIF quarterfinals on Saturday.
As for DHS, the season may be over but it had its high points. After beginning the season with a tie and three losses, the Golden Eagles finished third in the De Anza League, behind traditional powers Desert Mirage and Coachella Valley, just ahead of Rancho Mirage.
They finished with as many single-season victories as they’ve had since 2012, and found a way to win a playoff game after a minor drought.
“It’s been an honor coaching these kids,” Fragoso said. “It was a pleasure, not just making soccer players out of them, but making men out of them.
“If they can come out of here and be successful, then we’ve accomplished something bigger than any game or CIF title.”