Balers seek to join CCS elite

Jose Agredano has been a key player to the Balers' success this season. Photo by Nick Lovejoy.

When the San Benito High boys soccer team is at its best, it keeps the ball on the ground with crisp passes and unselfish play. The Haybalers also don’t get caught up committing silly fouls or receiving yellow cards for jawing at the referees. When the Balers struggle, it’s often because players are holding onto the ball and not staying mentally composed.

“We need to keep on playing smarter and I think we can win out—or come close to winning out,” junior Jose Agredano said. “I feel like we can go far in the CCS playoffs. We have the talent, and we just have to keep our heads cool and try not to let our emotions get the best of us because we don’t play as good if we’re worrying about fouls or the refs. We just have to beat teams by sticking to our game.”

San Benito started the season with a 5-2 win over Greenfield and 2-0 victory over Santa Clara before a 2-2 draw against North Salinas Monday. Against Greenfield, Manny Ceja finished with three goals and Agredano two. In the Santa Clara match, Ceja accounted for both goals, with assists coming from Agredano and Edgar Barbosa.

Tuesday, the Balers produced an impressive 3-0 win over Homestead, with Edgar Barbosa scoring twice and Agredano once. Agredano also had an assist, along with Ricardo Hernandez and Ceja. In the tie with North Salinas, Ceja and Gerardo Ramirez scored one goal each.

Agredano, a 5-foot-9, 127-pound midfielder, and Ceja, a 5-11, 158-pound senior striker, have been instrumental in keying the team’s attack. Agredano has a Midas touch with both of his feet, able to thread passes in spots that put players like Ceja in a great position to score.

Agredano also possesses tremendous speed, allowing him to get by opposing players on a moment’s notice. For the Balers, their superior speed is a particularly crucial element this season because they lack the height to win the majority of balls in the air.

“Teams tower over us, and the only way to beat them is by passing and using our speed,” Agredano said.

Agredano has been impressed with Ceja’s performance this season, as the two have connected on the field.

“Manny is a goal-scoring machine,” Agredano said. “I or someone else will send him a good through ball, and he’ll make it work.”

Indeed, Ceja has been on top of his game, getting defenders and goalkeepers in advantageous one-on-one situations. Ceja, who had a team-high 17 goals last season, is already on pace to smash last year’s mark. Lethal with both legs and armed with tremendous agility and quickness, Ceja knows how to position himself to put himself in optimum scoring opportunities.

Ceja credited his teammates for making great passes and working together nicely.

“I’ve been scoring my goals pretty much because the team is passing the ball well,” he said. “The defense works the ball to the middle, and the midfielders get the ball to me where I can beat the defender and easily score on the goalie. If it wasn’t for Jose, I wouldn’t have as many goals or as many chances on goals. He’s doing a pretty good job, and he’s like (fellow midfielder) Abraham (Arevalo) because they both have the same technique and when they get the ball, they’re looking to make plays.”

Ceja’s first goal against Santa Clara came when he got the ball in between a defender’s legs before scoring an easy tap-in against a helpless goalkeeper.

“I got a nutmeg (sports term used to describe getting a ball in between a person’s legs) on him, which was pretty cool,” Ceja said.

Last summer, Ceja played with the Hollister Strikers team that went to Ireland to play some top-level competitive soccer clubs. Six other San Benito High players—Agredano, Barbosa, Ramon Delgado, Erik Servin, Erwin Gomez and Pedro Laguna—also played for the Strikers, allowing them to develop a chemistry that is noticeable whenever they take the field.

“We got a chance to build some chemistry on the Strikers, that we’re carrying over to the field now,” Ceja said. “I know most of their talents and skills and what they’ll do with the ball.”

Manny Ceja is on pace to surpass his 17-goal total from last season. Photo by Nick Lovejoy.

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