Highlanders shut down Buena Park, earn playoff berth
by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
The first two Freeway League meetings between La Habra and Buena Park went down to the final minute in the fourth quarter.
In the first game, Buena Park won on a five-meter penalty shot with 12 seconds remaining. The second time, La Habra trailed until Grant Harris put the team up with 1:03 remaining in the fourth quarter.
In a one-game playoff Friday afternoon at Troy High, La Habra got the quick start it had been looking for and never let up in a dominant 12-4 win over Buena Park to claim the Freeway League’s third and final guaranteed playoff spot.
It was the second win over Buena Park in as many days.
“We didn’t want to win yesterday only to lose today,” said senior Sean Pedersen, who led all scorers with seven goals. “That was the focus for us today, it kept us in the game.”
Pedersen and the Highlanders picked up defensively where they left off in Thursday’s fourth quarter, by pressing the outside shooters and causing issues for the Coyotes’ ball movement.
The tactic netted two counterattack goals in the first quarter and a handful of man advantages as the Highlanders led 7-0 at half.
“I was a little concerned that they would try to pick off our leading scorers,” Edwards said. “I was confident that we had other scorers just in case. Defensively, I wanted our outsides to feel out the refs early when we pressed. All of a sudden, they’re forcing the perimeter players to work more, now we have opportunities to steal and counterattack, it played well into what we were trying to do early.”
Pedersen scored three goals in the first half and Harris added two to lead La Habra.
When Buena Park was able to ring off a shot, La Habra goalkeeper Corey Edwards was there to knock it down.
The senior goalkeeper made the game difficult for Buena Park’s leading scorer Andy Kim, who scored just two goals.
“We were focused on playing the best that we could and not being nervous,” Corey Edwards said. “We wanted to feel proud. There were a couple things yesterday that I picked up on, which made me more comfortable today, but the team picked up on them as well and that was a huge help for me.”
To make matters worse for the Coyotes (8-15, 6-5), they failed to capatilize on any advantages in the first half, missing on three five-meter penalty shots and failing to convert on three 6-on-5 advantages.
Meanwhile, Harris hit a five-meter penalty shot and scored on another counterattack in the second quarter.
Pedersen made his presence felt down low, scoring both of his third-quarter goals on rebounds, while Kim scored twice for Buena Park in the period, but the deficit was too much for the Coyotes to overcome as La Habra led 10-2 heading into the fourth quarter.
“During yesterday’s game, Grant commandeered their attention when he scored those five goals,” Pedersen said. “That relieved a little pressure off of me and opened things up for both of us.”
La Habra (15-13, 7-4) cruised to the victory and a third-place finish in the Freeway League.
Corey Edwards finished with 12 saves for La Habra and the defense allowed only four shots to reach him in the first half.
Meanwhile, Jacob Graham added two first-half goals and Garrett Roberts scored in the third quarter for the Highlanders.
“Thankfully, we adapted to what we saw yesterday on 6-on-5 defense, that adjustment helped a lot,” David Edwards said. “I was very surprised that we were able to shut them out in the first half. A team like Buena Park, you don’t expect to shut out in one half, I knew it wouldn’t happen the entire game. We knew they would make some good adjustments, but we were able to maintain.”
The Highlanders will now turn their attention to the Division 4 playoffs, which open up with the Wild Card round on Tuesday.
La Habra will find out who it will play on Sunday afternoon when the CIF-SS Pairings are released.
“To see a team that’s been struggling in the first quarter all year, to see them come out hard today, it means a lot,” David Edwards said. “It means a lot that they can come out strong and try to take control right away rather than fight back from a deficit. Hopefully we can carry that through into CIF.”