In the context of a high school sports season, rarely is a league championship and Central Coast Section playoff berth decided on the final day of the regular-season between the very two teams that are in contention for them.
But that’s exactly the situation the San Benito High boys soccer team found itself in entering the regular-season finale against King City on Feb. 11. Win and the Haybalers were in. Lose or even tie and King City would be the league title winners, get a spot in the postseason and deny the Balers what they were seeking.
Overcoming adversity and excelling once again in a white-knuckle match, San Benito edged King City 2-1 to clinch the Pacific Coast League Mission Division championship and an automatic berth into the CCS playoffs. The Balers finished 7-2-1 (22 points) in division play to King City’s 21 points to win their first league title since the 2013-2014 season.
San Benito earned the No. 3 seed in the Division I tournament and hosts No. 6 seed Alisal (14-3-2) on Saturday at 5pm.
Coach Marco Orozco, who is in his second stint with the team and has experienced previous success, said the King City result might have been the single greatest moment in his five years with the program.
“It was very emotional because I feel like the players trust me and I trust them,” he said. “It was important to win league because of the type of players we have. It was Senior Night and the whole game was a roller coaster of emotions.”
Incredibly enough, San Benito won despite playing a man down for the final 10 minutes of the second half. And while that may not sound too daunting, Orozco said the head referee added 10 minutes of stoppage time which, fair or not, only added to the drama and how San Benito had to persevere to the very end.
Ezequiel Suarez, a sophomore who was called up from the junior varsity team in the beginning of league play, scored the game-winning goal with about three minutes left before stoppage time. Suarez was brought up to play center back last month after a couple of injuries to the starters and the initial plan was to have him eventually go back to the JV team.
However, Suarez played well enough to stay up and his goal caused pandemonium on the San Benito bench.
“I think everybody went crazy,” Orozco said. “Everybody was on the field, including myself to be honest. Some parents, too.”
Eusebio Rivera-Villalobos scored the first goal of the game before King City got the equalizer. Since the Mustangs only needed a tie to win the league title because they entered the match with more points, they took the tactic of stalling as much as they could, said Orozco, who didn’t blame them for doing it.
But San Benito kept on attacking and eventually it paid off with Suarez’s tally.
“We had to win it so at the end of the day we went for it,” Orozco said. “We knew what we had to do and at the end they were able to put it in and get the win.”
The Balers learned a lot from the first game with King City, a 2-1 loss. Specifically, the Mustangs talk a lot of trash and play physical, Orozco said. In the rematch, it was up to the Balers to prepare mentally and physically for King City’s tactics.
“We knew what kind of soccer they like to do, so we were ready for that,” Orozco said. “They’re very physical and they like to talk trash in your face. The entire week we prepared ourselves to mentally keep our heads cool and I think we were able to pretty much do that the entire game.”
Orozco noted the team later appealed and got their player’s red card rescinded after a video review. He raved about the team’s midfield play, with Ezekiel Hernandez doing another splendid job of controlling and distributing the ball.
“He did a fantastic job and has been consistent throughout the season,” Orozco said.
Speaking of consistency, sophomore striker Hernan Alvarez Funes always gives a great effort which gives the team extra chances to control the possession and put shots on goal.
“He’s running non-stop and always fighting,” Orozco said.
Senior forward Daniel Alcala, a key sub for most of the season, earned valuable minutes in the King City game and was making things happen all over the field.
“He was fighting for the ball up top and looking for every little chance he had to get the ball for us,” Orozco said. “He comes in and is always running because he has great stamina, great speed and is always doing a great job whether he’s playing five minutes or the entire game.”
Art Parra, Ethan Salcedo and Khader Yasin all were victorious in their respective weight classes in the Pacific Coast League Gabilan Division Finals at Palma High on Feb. 12. They along with several other Balers advance to the CCS Championships which goes on all day Friday and Saturday at Watsonville High.
Parra captured the 120-pound weight class with an impressive 7-1 decision over Daniel Glenn of Gilroy. It was Parra’s second win over Glenn in as many meetings this season, the first being an 8-3 decision at Mid-Cals. Glenn almost took Parra down on a couple of early shot attempts, but Parra was able to defend them before scoring on a couple of shots of his own in each period.
“He felt stronger compared to the last time I wrestled him, and I really wasn’t ready for that,” said Parra, who earned the No. 2 seed in the upcoming Central Coast Section Championships. “It felt good because everyone was watching that match, all the Gilroy guys and our guys.”
Parra started the season at 126 but dropped to 120 halfway through, and ever since then he’s started to get the results many expected of him when he transferred in from Central Catholic of Modesto last summer.
“I feel stronger than most of the guys at 120s,” he said. “They’re faster but not as strong as the guys at 126, so 120 is a weight class that fits me.”
Parra and Yasin both had two matches, the semifinals and finals. Yasin won the heavyweight division with ease, recording two quick pins. He’s seeded No. 4 in CCS and is aiming for a top three finish, which would qualify him for the CIF State Meet.
The senior said he’s been throwing well and getting out of bottom position. It took a while for Yasin to wrestle the way he wanted to because he suffered a right knee injury at the start of the season, then focused for a couple of weeks on playing in the Central Coast All-Star Football Game in January.
Yasin took third in the Overfelt Tournament and second in the El Camino Colt Invitational preceding the league finals. He’s currently 250 pounds and doesn’t have to stress about making weight for Friday’s CCS weigh-ins because he’s well below the heavyweight max of 285.
Yasin, Salcedo and Parra said being a part of this year’s team has made their season one of the most enjoyable of their careers.
“It’s the most fun I’ve had and when you enjoy practicing, it helps you improve,” Yasin said.
Salcedo was scheduled to compete in two matches, but his opponent in the finals, Daniel Zepeda of Gilroy, defaulted. All told, Salcedo was at Palma all day for one contested match.
“It was a long process for one match,” he said. “It was kind of disappointing not being able to wrestle in the finals.”
Salcedo said he was surprised to earn the No. 2 seed in the 126-pound division for CCS. However, Salcedo knows it’s best for him to have an underdog mentality against everyone he faces. He’s also feeling confident in his stand-up game.
“I feel like I’m getting better on my feet and not hesitating on my shots like I used to,” he said. “I’ve been wrestling good and hope to keep it up.”
CCS playoff pairings
Division I: San Benito (17-6) at No. 10 Los Gatos (14-10), 7 p.m.
Division IV: No. 6 San Benito (10-7-3) at No. 3 Alvarez (9-3-3), 5 p.m.
Division I: No. 9 Menlo-Atherton-Independence winner at No. 8 San Benito 17-6), 7 p.m.
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at email@example.com