For the second game in a row, the Balers lost 1-0, this time falling to Leland at San Benito High. The Balers will enter the league season Friday with a 3-2 record.
Despite the pair of losses, though, the Balers have high expectations and goals entering the league season. Simply, San Benito wants to make an appearance in the Central Coast Section playoffs.
And that success starts on the defensive end with the return of the last year’s Tri-County Athletic League’s defensive player of the year Victoria Perez. On Tuesday, Perez was all over the field helping the Balers’ shorthanded defense and limiting Leland’s second half opportunities.
“I think we have a really good team this year,” she said. “We are playing together. It’s going really well right now. I’m hoping we do really good in the season. We are just going to work really hard. Our practices are going great. We are conditioned. We are ready to take on whatever in the CCS.”
That confidence was showcased against the Chargers. San Benito got off to a good start with quick pressure on the Leland defense. But the Balers’ issues around the net caused trouble throughout.
After a dominant first five minutes, where the Balers missed three opportunities near the net, Leland started to take control of the game. With the Balers missing two key defensive player because of injuries, Leland put constant pressure on SBHS goalie Marissa Espino.
The San Benito senior, though, responded by making diving saves after another. Espino finished the first half with nine saves. But in the 30th minute, on a long pass across the middle, the ball skipped past Espino to give Leland the 1-0 lead.
“Well, I was really nervous,” Espino said. “It was my first game under the lights. We kept up with them. We came out harder in the second half. We are growing as a team. We need to take better shots. We will improve from this.”
After the goal San Benito did just that and started to push more offensively.
Over the last 50 minutes, San Benito controlled possession of the ball and continued to put pressure on the Leland defense.
Near the 60th minute, San Benito missed on a pair of opportunities only minutes apart. After a strong pass down the left sideline by Kristen Callanta, Illanna Woods missed a shot above the crossbar as she tried to gain position in the center of the field.
Moments later, Berenice Bribiesca had a similar opportunity. With her back to the net, Bribiesca turned toward the middle of the field and sailed a shot just above the crossbar.
In the second half, San Benito missed four shots high, while outshooting Leland 10-3 in the final 40 minutes of play.
“One thing we’ve been working on with the girls is just bringing out just as much intensity in the second half as the first half,” SBHS head coach Becky Bonner said. “It really showed today in that second half. They settled the ball. They passed the ball better and they communicated. We got better shots, unfortunately we missed. That’s definitely been happening.”
She continued: “We are working on it in practice. We know what we need to work on. We are going to go strong on the skill set.”
For San Benito back-to-back 1-0 losses will only help them come the league season, Perez said. The Balers know what they need to work on to reach their season-long goal.
“It just makes us want to work harder and achieve our goal,” Perez said. “We need to finish in the goal. We have a lot of shots but we aren’t finishing in goal. On defense, we are dropping back on our defense and working together as a team more. As a captain, I just want to keep up the intensity for the team. I want to push us toward what we want to do.”
So far, the team has done exactly what Bonner wanted to see them accomplish, she said.
“Our goal in preseason always was to have the girls develop,” she said. “A lot of the girls are trying new positions – which a lot of coaching staffs don’t do – but for us we want to make sure we are finding the right fit before the season starts. It’s really exciting for us. We are finding those places and spots.”
Despite being two months away, the postseason is in the Balers’ sights.
“Our goal for the girls is looking beyond league,” Bonner said. “We want to finish high in league. We want to make sure we set some school history by making it past that first round. And all the girls are on board on making that goal together.”