Soccer: Balers are tough enough

Balers goalkeeper Hailey Blackburn kicks the ball away in the team's 2-1 win over Sobrato on Dec. 21.

Down to stoppage time, the San Benito High girls soccer team looked as if it would have to be relegated to a draw with visiting Sobrato in their non-league contest on Dec. 21. It would’ve been a tough pill to swallow given the fact that the Haybalers had controlled the run of play, dominating the possession for long stretches.

That’s when Shantay Tamez and Maritza Santoyo said enough was enough. Tamez’s laser shot from just inside the 18-yard box deflected off the Sobrato goalkeeper, and a determined Santoyo was there to boot the rebound back into the net to give San Benito a thrilling 2-1 victory.

The goal was essentially soccer version’s of a buzzer beater, as the referee blew the final whistle 30 seconds later. Talk about perfect timing: Santoyo was responsible for both of the team’s scores—her first two goals ever at the varsity level. The senior midfielder couldn’t have been more excited to help the team improve its record to 4-1-1 entering this week’s play.

“I was so happy and proud of myself,” Santoyo said. “We kept pushing, and it paid off in the end.”
Did it ever. Both of Santoyo’s goals came off the nifty playmaking dribbling skills of Carly Lowi and Tamez. Santoyo scored the game’s first goal in the 35th minute when Lowi juked a couple of defenders down the left flank before getting inside of the penalty area.

That’s when Lowi feathered a pass to Santoyo, who put herself in prime position near the penalty area before one-timing a shot that the Sobrato goalkeeper had no chance of stopping.

“I saw Carly being surrounded left and right, so I ran up and started yelling her name since I was open,” Santoyo said. “She passed it, but I don’t even remember sticking my foot out there. I felt the ball hit my foot and watch it go straight over the goalie’s foot. My first thought was, ‘Did it really go in?’”

Balers coach Becky Bonner-Leland was downright ecstatic with both of Santoyo’s goals.

“We always tell the girls if someone shoots, you have to follow up just in case there’s a deflection or missed shot on goal,” Bonner-Leland said. “That was a perfect example of why you follow up, because you never know when the ball is going to come your way. She was there perfectly and beautifully positioned after making a beautiful run. I was very impressed with her today. She wanted it and showed it at the end.”

The Balers won despite having just two healthy substitutes on the bench after Monica Corral had to be carted off late in the first half. The team was already down three starters—Rachel Peterson, Alex Mendoza and Kassy Moreno—after they suffered injuries earlier in the season.

Santoyo was a reserve a year ago on a deep San Benito squad. It looked as if she was going to be one of the team’s top reserves once again this season before several players who were slated to come back chose not to return. In stepped Santoyo, who has done an admirable job.

“Maritza has been wonderful for the team,” Bonner-Leland said.

Santoyo has an older brother and sister who both played soccer at San Benito, and their father also played in high school. Along with several coaches, they’ve all shaped and helped Santoyo’s game over the years. Santoyo plans on pursuing a career in psychology to become a social worker.

She’s seen firsthand the help a social worker can provide to developmentally challenged people, and has a heart to help others. That mentality rings true on the soccer field as well. Santoyo works hard, passes the ball well and wants nothing more than for her teammates to succeed.

“I’ve been taught to not bring any personal problems onto the field,” she said. “That once you step out onto that field, the only thing that matters is your teammates and playing the game you love as hard as you can.”

Santoyo plans on having no regrets in the end.

“This might be my last year playing the sport, and I want to be proud of myself at the end,” she said. “When the last game is done, I want to look back and be real happy with what I’ve done.”

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