#10 Luke Sheffey goes in for slid tackle on #5 Sebastian Alvarez. | Credit: Victor Bryant

A battle for first place in the Channel League was hotly contested but failed to produce a goal as Santa Barbara and San Marcos battled to a scoreless tie on Monday night at Peabody Stadium.

The two teams came into the match with identical 6-1 records in Channel League play, and after 80 minutes of tremendous intensity befitting of a rivalry match, defense ruled the day.

“It’s just whoever takes advantage of their opportunities. I felt we had more today and we didn’t get the lucky bounces that we wanted,” said Santa Barbara coach Ricardo Alcaraz Cuellar. “Sometimes the game is all about luck, and we didn’t get it today.”

The best goal-scoring opportunity of the game for either team came in the second minute of play as Andres Arroyo broke free in the box and slid a pass to Sebastian Alvarez, whose shot drifted narrowly wide of goal.

The near miss was a wakeup call for San Marcos, as the Royals put together a brilliant defensive effort for the remainder of the match that was spearheaded by defenders Justin Hess and Ronin Suzuki as well as goalkeeper Freddy Gonzalez.

“They came out ready, had lots of energy, created good chances, and we weathered the storm, thankfully, and made a little tweak, and that really helped our composure and our possession too,” said San Marcos coach Paul McLean of Santa Barbara’s strong start and his team’s resiliency.

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Gonzalez made a couple of key saves to keep Santa Barbara off the scoreboard. The first came in the 37th minute when he smothered a free kick from just outside the box by Alvararez. 

Midway through the second half, Santa Barbara’s top goal-scoring threat Will Dunlap delivered a sizzling free kick from 25 yards out that was placed just below the crossbar, and Gonzalez was able to punch it away. 

The Dons had one final goal-scoring opportunity during stoppage time on a cross that slipped through Gonzalez’s hands and bounced around in the box, but no Santa Barbara attackers were able to pounce on it before Gonzalez secured it. 

“It happened to go into the lights, and I was already there. I couldn’t back down. I had to continue with the play,” Gonzalez said. “Everybody was confused; no one saw it. Luckily enough I landed, twisted, and caught it.”

The bulk of San Marcos’ scoring chances came on set pieces that they failed to execute.

“We had a number of set piece opportunities, a number of crosses I’d like to see us do more with,” McLean said. “Part A of the equation was working. We have to figure out Part B.”

The two teams will play again on Friday, beginning at 6:30 p.m., with the winner likely securing the Channel League title. 

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