Soccer: Balers hit key stretch of season

Rachel Peterson keeps possession during the Balers' 3-1 win over MVC on Jan. 15.

The San Benito High girls soccer team has entered the most critical juncture of its season. The Haybalers entered Wednesday’s game against Salinas—the result was not available when this edition went to press—in fourth place in the Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division standings, trailing first-place Salinas, Gilroy and Christopher.
After the match with Salinas, San Benito plays Christopher on Friday—meaning the Balers have plenty of opportunities to control their destiny. The top three teams in the Gabilan earn automatic berths into the Central Coast Section playoffs, meaning San Benito has to win or draw with the top-tier teams the rest of the way if it plans on meeting its goals of contending for a league championship and making the postseason.
The Balers suffered a 2-1 loss to Gilroy on Jan. 6, a result the players said they could use to their advantage going forward.
“It was a tough loss, but we know we can do better than we did,” said Mariana Magana, who scored her first goal of the season in a 3-1 win over Monte Vista Christian on Jan. 15. “We had a loss of concentration and at the beginning, we got frustrated with each other. But that’s not what this team is about, so we’ll use that and stay positive in our matches.”
Against MVC, the usual stalwart Balers played well, including Austin Perez and Kayla King, who scored the team’s first two goals, both off headers. King scored in first-half stoppage time and again in the 66th minute. On both occasions, King was left unmarked and used her head to perfectly direct the ball away from the MVC goalkeeper.
King’s second tally came off a perfectly placed corner kick from Alyssa Bengivengo. Carly Lowi, Mariana Santoyo, Emmalyn Irvin and Perez combined to place several quality shots on goal, including a couple of near-misses.
After a lackluster first half, the Balers dominated the possession in the final 40 minutes, with Magana scoring the final goal in the 79th minute—a minute after MVC had looked like it tied the game when one of its players drilled a ball that hit the top crossbar and bounced straight down into the field of play.
However, it was ruled the ball never crossed the line, and moments later Magana flicked the ball with her right foot from inside the penalty box with the MVC goalkeeper off her line. A sophomore who is the backup goalkeeper to Hailey Blackburn, Magana was inserted into the game as a midfielder for the start of the second half, and the move obviously paid off.
“I was excited when she (coach Becky Bonner) told me I was going into the game,” Magana said. “I didn’t think I would get a chance to score, but on the goal, I kind of knew if I kept (possession of) the ball, it wouldn’t have gone in. I just did what I see in practice. You can’t beat the feeling of scoring a goal—it’s amazing.”
Magana played 30 minutes against Gilroy, the only other time this season she has received significant action. Magana has been reunited with her sister, Andrea, who is a junior reserve midfielder. The Maganas grew up playing soccer together, but went their separate ways once they started playing club soccer.
“It feels great to play with my sister again,” Mariana said.
“We like to yell at each other in support,” Andrea said. “I like to yell more positive stuff and she usually likes to yell negative stuff because I can take it.”
Both players said they look up to teammates King, Lowi and Alex Mendoza.
“Carly controls the ball really well and Alex has amazing passes,” Andrea said. “Kayla is an awesome player and is like a coach on and off the field.”

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