Michael Palmer, left, celebrates with teammate Matthew Morgan, who fed Palmer the pass for the  game-winning goal to put the Westmont soccer team into the GSAC Tournament.

Michael Palmer, left, celebrates with teammate Matthew Morgan, who fed Palmer the pass for the game-winning goal to put the Westmont soccer team into the GSAC Tournament. (Felipe Garcia / Noozhawk photo)

Down to its last breath, Westmont Men’s Soccer (9-4-2, 4-4-1) found a way clinch a postseason berth on Saturday, after defeating the Menlo Oaks (7-4-6, 3-2-4) 1-0. In a day full of swan songs, the Warriors made sure that the final page of their season’s story would not be written this weekend.

Headlining the plotlines from Saturday’s match was the fact that Westmont head coach Dave Wolf was coaching his final game at Thorrington Field, with the Warriors trying to ensure it was not the last day of his coaching career.

Thanks to a 21st minute goal from San Marcos High alum Michael Palmer, the club’s lone senior, Wolf gets to coach at least one more game, and Palmer gets to don the Westmont crest at least one more time.

“I’m thrilled that I get another week to train and coach these men,” said a proud Wolf. “These men absolutely deserve to be in the postseason and we’ve known that for a long time. The confirmation to get there took a lot, and I’m excited to see what we can do in the postseason.”

Following Aldo Becerril’s season-saving goal on Thursday, Westmont’s Matthew Morgan approached the folks who run Westmont’s social media accounts with a question.

“What do I have to do to get on the Instagram?” asked Morgan. The answer Morgan received was to score the game-winning goal on Saturday. 

“I got you,” answered a confident Morgan.

While that honor ultimately fell to Palmer, it was Morgan that put the ball at his feet during the 21st minute.

The eventual match-winning moment began with Connor Lynch intercepting a pass between two Oaks on Menlo’s side of the pitch. Forty yards out, Lynch quickly turned to play the ball to  Becerril, who then turned to feed Morgan who was sprinting towards the far corner.

With room to set himself up on the far sideline, Morgan’s lethal left foot sent a pass to the near-edge of the six-yard box. The ball landed on the inside of Palmer’s left foot six inches above the ground, and darted its way to the back of the net for the eventual postseason-clinching goal.

Once the match ended, Morgan got his wish, as the highlight of his season-saving assist began racking up views on social media.

“I told you I got you,” said a victorious Morgan.

While the day’s highlights featured Palmer’s goal and the club’s postgame celebration, there was still nearly 70 minutes that the Warriors had to fend off the Oaks. Westmont keeper Abraham Arteaga collected his second consecutive shutout, making all three saves he was asked to make on Saturday.

In front of Arteaga was the trio of Landon Amaral, Christian Jimenez, and Jackson Wolf, who was trying to avoid sending his father to an early retirement. Together, the three men relentlessly fought off every deep ball from the Oaks, and stood tall each time Menlo crept their way inside the box.

The dramatic win featured another under-the-radar hero in freshman Alex Reyes, who had played only 85 minutes all season before Saturday. On three separate occasions, Jimenez fell to the ground after wearing a lot of contact on balls in the air. After the first two spills, Jimenez was able to shake it off. After the third however, in the 75th minute, Jimenez was forced to leave the field.

With 15 minutes left, and their season on the line, Reyes stepped into the final line of defense. While the stats won’t show it, Reyes held his ground, and stood up a pair of Menlo Oaks on two specific occasions, not allowing the opposition a final look at Arteaga in the game’s final moments.

In the end, the Warriors successfully held off the Oaks, and when the final clearance soared at the buzzer, the men were finally able to celebrate their postseason berth. After the initial hugs and handshakes, the Warriors paid their usual trip to the Thorrington crowd, applauding the Westmont faithful that aided in their win.

This time, however, the majority of the club hung back several yards shy of the sideline, as the group urged two specific men to take the spotlight. From there, Coach Wolf and Captain Palmer took center stage to give thanks to the Westmont crowd, while receiving a standing ovation in return.

“Last week, this team went through a lot,” reflected Palmer. “Regardless, we wanted to leave everything out on the field and have no regrets. We wanted to do it for Coach Wolf, the guys who can’t be out there with us, and the families that are hurting.

“It was a big moment for us, and I’m proud of the boys.”

When asked how it sounded to get to suit at least once more, Palmer smiled and said, “It feels amazing. It was bittersweet coming out to the field today, knowing we had to win to move on. It’s a special uniform that means a lot to me, and it means a lot more than me, too.”

“There’s a great heritage that’s come before us, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

“Michael has been a consummate leader,” said Wolf. “There is no better example of what a leader looks like than this young man. When it comes to leadership in this program, he’s one of the all-time greats. For him to get the goal today, that was remarkably special.”

Coming into the day, Westmont was tied for the sixth and final spot in the GSAC Tournament, knotted at 10 points alongside The Master’s. With the Warriors owning the tiebreaker over the Mustangs, so long as Westmont won, they were going to punch their ticket. 

With the win, Westmont ended the regular season with 13 points, the same amount as both Menlo and The Master’s. With Westmont having beaten both of those teams during the season, the Warriors have earned the five-seed in the GSAC Tournament.

Now, the Warriors advance to the GSAC Quarterfinals, which will take place on Saturday, November 5, at 11:00 a.m. Westmont will travel to Surprise, Arizona to take on the four-seeded Ottawa (Ariz.) Spirit, a team Westmont lost 3-1 to in their GSAC opener on September 29.