Soccer: San Benito rising to the occasion

Balers wingback Carly Lowi has scored seven goals this season.

The San Benito High girls soccer team is winning by not focusing on the scoreboard. While that may seem counterintuitive on the surface, it makes perfect sense in the sports world.
Coaches talk about winning the moment every minute of everyday, and in the soccer universe that means contesting every 50-50 ball, being disciplined and having a mindset that the game is always even no matter what the score is.
“Even if we’re up, we’ll literally yell 0-0 from the sidelines,” Haybalers coach Becky Bonner said. “By making the girls refocus and realize every moment is a new moment, it takes that pressure off of them. They can play as a team as opposed to stressing about the scoreboard.”
By focusing more on effort than the score, the Balers are having another fine season. They entered Wednesday’s match against Christopher at 10-4-2 overall and 7-2-1 in the Monterey Bay League’s Gabilan Division, good for second place. With 23 points, San Benito sat just two points behind first-place Salinas with two games remaining.
Whatever happens, the Balers have locked up a top-three finish and Central Coast Section playoff berth. They’ve won five straight since a 3-1 loss to Christopher on Jan. 22.
“The first time we played them (Christopher), I honestly thought we weren’t ready for that one,” Balers forward Shantay Tamez said. “But I think we’ll come in stronger this time. We’re a different team now.”
Said Bonner: “The nicest thing is in the past few weeks they’ve come together as a group. They’ve had this mindset shift where in the first part of the season if something negative happened, we would have a hard time refocusing. But they’ve developed a stronger mindset.”
Nowhere was that more apparent than in the team’s 2-1 win over Salinas on Feb. 12. Tied 0-0 at halftime, San Benito controlled the pace of play in the second half, going up 1-0 in the 47th minute when freshman wingback Carly Lowi took advantage of an errant clear deep in the Salinas end. Lowi was in the box when a Salinas player kicked the ball straight to her, and she promptly nailed a shot into the top upper left corner.
“I was excited on the goal,” said Lowi, who has seven scores this season, including four in league play. “I knew I had to take advantage of it. We’re playing strong because we’re switching the field of play and winning 50-50 balls.”
San Benito was seemingly cruising to victory until Salinas scored in the 72nd minute via a free kick just outside the 18-yard box after Balers goalkeeper Hailey Blackburn—who had another outstanding performance—was called for a red card. For the final eight minutes of regulation and three to four minutes of stoppage time, the team was a player down.
That’s what made Tamez’s strike in the 80th minute all the more spectacular. San Benito wasn’t about to pack things in and settle for a tie; rather, it went on the offensive when Alyssa Bengivengo feathered a perfect through ball to an streaking Tamez down the middle of the field.
The standout sophomore got behind the Salinas defense, forcing the goalkeeper to come off her line. The two players met 10 yards in front of the goal in what turned out to be a 50-50 ball. Tamez won the battle, as the ball deflected off the goalkeeper’s legs before trickling into the lower right corner of the net. As Tamez saw the ball rolling toward the net, she could only hope it would cross the line before a Salinas player could clear it. Late in the first half, Tamez drilled a shot that hit the post. She wasn’t about to be denied again.
“Everything was literally in slow motion,” she said. “I wanted that because I didn’t want what happened in the first half to repeat. Luckily, it went into the net. As a group, we came out strong. It was another intense game, and it was freaking great.”
When Tamez scored, Bonner leapt in the air in jubilation.
“Let’s just say I was really excited,” Bonner said. “The girls told me I don’t usually jump like that. I think I surprised them more than I did me to be honest. I was just excited and wanted to run out on the field and hug Shantay.”
Balers defender Marisa Villegas was active as usual, joining the attack on occasion and delivering nice passes and helping the team’s possession-based attack revving. Blackburn also made a number of key saves in the first half, when Salinas was at its best.
Midway through the first half, Blackburn came way off her line to make a sliding kick save on a Salinas player who was coming in after a San Benito turnover. The Balers are seemingly peaking at the perfect time, and they can credit a change in mindset and increased mental toughness.
“I think a lot of people forget the right things to do when they’re so focused on winning,” Bonner said. “They forget it’s really about developing them as kids and people, and think we’ve done that.”

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