It was an imperfect storm that the Buchanan High boys soccer team simply couldn't weather.
Winds in the 20-30 mph range were whipping toward the Bears goal, where a sophomore goalkeeper had been thrust into the CIF Southern California Regional Division I playoff opener as an injury replacement.
And the youngster was cut no slack by a savvy senior from Crescenta Valley-La Crescenta.
Acting quickly after high-scoring striker Pavle Atanackovic was fouled roughly 35 yards out, teammate Alex Berger slammed a free kick high into the right corner of the east goal as the Falcons beat fourth-seeded and 2011 Division I runner-up Buchanan 1-0 on Tuesday.
Crescenta Valley (22-0-6) faces top-seeded Millikan-Long Beach in Thursday's semifinals.
"Alex is a very intelligent soccer player," Crescenta Valley coach Grant Clark said. "He understands what to do and how to get it done."
Goalkeeper Sina Abedi, who entered the game 10 minutes earlier after Brandon Gettman reaggravated a quad injury, was trying to arrange the Bears into a wall when Berger struck. Abedi just missed getting a hand on the high bender.
"There's not much he can do with that, and he still almost got it," Buchanan coach John Spurgeon said.
Buchanan (19-6-1) seemed to be caught off-guard by the swiftness of Berger's strike, which came without him asking the referee for 10 yards of space -- as is common -- between the free kick and the Bears' wall.
"Usually if the ref is gesturing at all, he'll wait," Buchanan senior midfielder Kason Binford said. "But they didn't and the guy hit an amazing free kick."
From there, Buchanan had four shots from within the box that went straight into Crescenta Valley goalkeeper Nick Ruiz's arms. The Bears played with an extra player on the offensive end over the final 10 minutes, but couldn't push across a goal.
"We had chances, we just couldn't finish," Binford said. "We've had that problem at times, but not recently. It's tough that it came back today."
The Bears made an unexpected second straight appearance in the SoCal Regionals after replacing 10 starters off a team that lost 4-1 to San Clemente in the D-I final last season.
Buchanan, which finished second behind Central in the Tri-River Athletic Conference and was seeded fourth in the Central Section playoffs, upset the top-seeded Grizzlies in the semifinals, then beat Liberty-Bakersfield for their second straight section D-I crown.
"A lot of people didn't expect us to get to this point," Spurgeon said. "I'm proud of them."
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