Girls soccer: Balers edge Gilroy in MBL Gabilan Division opener

San Benito's Austin Perez, right, seen here in a Nov. 20 practice, scored the first goal in Wednesday's match vs. Gilroy. 

The Gilroy and San Benito girls soccer teams entered Wednesday’s Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division opener with renewed optimism—and for good reason.
Neither team exactly lit it up in the non-league portion of their schedules, with the Mustangs going 1-5-0 and the Haybalers going 0-3-3.
It goes without saying that both squads were desperate for a win, and it was host San Benito that came away with an entertaining 2-1 victory.
“Everyone was so happy we were able to come out on top,” said Balers defender Marisa Villegas, who scored the game-winner in the 73rd minute. “Right when I kicked the ball, I thought it was going to go over the net.”
Not exactly. Villegas, a sophomore three-sport standout, kicked an absolute laser from 35 yards away that landed under the top post with room to spare.
“That was a great goal, a bullet,” Gilroy coach John Slattery said. “We have girls still trying to learn the game, but in the second half we turned it on and played some Gilroy soccer.”
Indeed, after getting dominated in the first half—the Balers had roughly 80 percent of the possession—the Mustangs played the home team to a standstill in the final 40 minutes.
San Benito had eight shots on goal to just one for Gilroy in the first half, and after several chances, Austin Perez tapped in a rebound in the 27th minute to give the Balers a 1-0 lead.
The Mustangs got even in the 57th minute when Samantha Gonzalez converted a penalty kick. Chelsey Robles set up the PK with a shot that would’ve scored had it not bounced off the arm of a San Benito player in front of the goal, which drew a red card and subsequent PK.
After both teams went back and forth with the possession, and with time winding down, Villegas struck to break the 1-1 deadlock. It was Villegas’ first goal of the season, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
“Our goal this season is to win league, and hopefully this gets us on the right track,” Villegas said. “We played some pretty tough teams in the preseason (non-league), and I think it made us better and more prepared to start and do well in league play.”
With Balers coach Becky Bonner pushing everyone up on the attack in the final minutes, Villegas was in the right place at the right time, pouncing on a loose ball before drilling a one-timer that Gilroy goalkeeper Brittany Bishop had no chance of stopping.
Bishop, a recent call-up from the junior varsity team after starter Katrina Carter suffered a dislocated finger injury against Mitty on Dec. 15, made a couple of nice saves after a somewhat shaky start in which she was caught out of her goal a couple of times and the Balers coming agonizingly close to scoring.
Balers goalkeeper Jen Martin had a spectacular game, highlighted by a diving kick save midway through the second half to prevent San Benito from falling behind. The Mustangs’ Alexi Slattery had a number of strong runs throughout the contest, and was a constant threat offensively.
The Balers’ Chace Miguel created a couple of great scoring chances, none better than in the 34th minute when she blew by a Gilroy defender while making a long run down the left sideline only to be denied by Bishop, who had to come way off her line to deflect the ball away.
“San Benito definitely banged the ball around and had some great possession, but I think the second half showed we can still compete for this league and do well,” John Slattery said.
“We weathered the storm, and the difference in the second half was the width of the field. We try to beat it in the girls’ heads that the more spacing you give, the more spacing you create. We’re constantly having too much tightness when we have the ball, and it’s easy to defend. Once you get out wide, it opens up space and we pass the ball better.”
It took a while, but the Balers finally got in the win column. Now they hope the tough teams they faced leading up to the league season will serve them well as they attempt to defend the Gabilan Division championship.
“The biggest thing for us is playing as a team,” Villegas said. “When we connect, we’re really good and we proved it tonight.”

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