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Heart of a lion: Live Oak headed to title game
Having one of the top soccer players in Live Oak High history as an older brother certainly didn't hurt Joel Cibrian.
The Lions' junior goalkeeper is the younger brother of 2010-11 A-D All-Area Player of the Year Hector Cibrian, a scholarship athlete at Chico State who finished his prep career with 97 goals.
When Hector was in the backyard or down at the park practicing, guess who he made defend his shots — little brother.
He's been a goalie ever since, but Joel Cibrian had only been in one shootout before. It was a competitive league game a couple of years ago, nothing compared the circumstances facing him on Tuesday afternoon in the Northern Section Division II semifinals.
No. 2 Live Oak and No. 3 Willows ended regulation with a 2-2 stalemate. The score remained the same over two 10-minute overtime periods.
As soon as the referee's whistle was blown, Joel Cibrian knew what stood between the Lions and a berth in the section title game — penalty kicks.
"I was nervous," he said. "I was thinking, 'If we miss one and I don't block it, it's all on me.' Everything was running through my head." Cibrian made two diving saves, Willows missed above the cross bar and the Lions earned a 3-0 shootout win at home and a date with No. 1 Orland in the section title on Saturday.
Edgar Diaz, Ricky Caratachea and Pedro Valencia all connected on their penalty kicks in the shootout.
Cibrian dove to his right to block a shot from Willows' Alexis Montoya and sealed the win by blocking Francisco Zepeda's attempt.
Cibrian was mobbed in front of the goal by his teammates and received the biggest hug from Hector.
"During practice we started talking about how this could be our last game and we just need to give everything we have," Cibrian said. "We put all of our hearts into this."
In the two teams' Sacramento Valley League-I meetings this season, Willows won both contests by 2-1 scores. One of those wins by Willows was forfeited though after it was discovered the Honkers used ineligible players.
Live Oak (19-1-2) drew first blood on Tuesday in the 34th minute of play.
After Armando Araujo's shot was deflected, Sal Vargas scrambled for the loose ball and sent it to the back of the net for a 1-0 Lions lead.
Willows knotted things up with a score from Fernando Cervantes in the 78th minute.
Araujo put the Lions back on top with a beautiful score. While sliding, the Lions' senior midfielder used his right foot to pop the ball over the outstretched keeper for the goal.
The Honkers responded one minute later due to a defensive miscue from the Lions and the score stayed 2-2 the rest of the way.
Live Oak is back in the section title game for the third time in six years under coach Mike Owen.
"We know that Orland is a very good team, they are a disciplined team, if we don't play really, really good soccer, it's going to be a long day for us on Saturday," Owen said. "You have to play your best."
Recently, Orland has become Live Oak's No. 1 nemesis. The Lions are 1-3 in their last four postseason matches against the Trojans with that one victory coming in the 2008 section championship game.
Orland returned the favor by knocking the Lions out of the postseason each of the last two years by a combined score of 9-2 en route to back-to-back section titles.
Orland's one loss this season came to Live Oak in the championship game of December's Central Valley Shootout.
"We're not going to catch them off-guard," Owen said. "They've been circling this date for a long time."