SOCCER: Title chase

Gilroy's Jahkya Tuerillo fields a pass during their game

Final week of regular season is here and GHS girls soccer
controls its destiny in pursuit of sixth straight league title,
while at CHS a trip to the postseason is already booked, but the
Cougars can clinch at least share of the MBL crown with win versus
Watsonville today
The Gilroy High girls soccer team isn’t used to losing much in Tri-County Athletic League play. So after a 2-0 loss to San Benito on Tuesday – the first defeat to a TCAL opponent in nearly three years (Feb. 13, 2009) – the Mustangs got back to what they do best last Thursday. Winning.

GHS defeated visiting Alvarez 5-0 to keep not just Salinas in its sight, but also an eye-popping sixth straight league title within reach.

The final week of the season is shaping up to be quite a thrill. After a visit to North Salinas on Wednesday, the Mustangs (10-6-2, 8-1-1 TCAL), who are in second place, host first-place Salinas (8-0-3) in the regular-season finale Friday.

Heading into this week’s slate of games, the Mustangs sit two points behind the Cowboys. GHS can leapfrog Salinas with a victory (three points) against the Vikings to set the stage for a winner-take-all showdown. The scenario would remain the same even if GHS loses to North Salinas ahead of the finisher.

GHS head coach Jose Hernandez put it bluntly at practice last Friday.

“If we pull off a tie we get it. If we pull of a win we get it. If we lose, we lose,” he said.

Though its overall league mark over the past two-plus seasons is a staggering 31-1-2, the Mustangs are used to a team or two threatening the their reign at the top of the TCAL. And Hernandez said the late-season drama is really just par for the course.

“There has always been a team close. It’s been Hollister the past two years. So it’s the same feel this year, and the main focus is on us,” Hernandez said. “It’s a matter of how we get through the drain of the season. It’s the same challenges every year and it’s about being able to stay focused.”

One of the challenges for GHS: Injuries. Bruised, tweaked and twisted, the Mustangs have dealt with and fought through countless injuries to just about every player. Practice time is limited or missed, and come game time, Hernandez rarely has more than two substitutes at his disposal. Yet the Mustangs seem to click on the pitch no matter the circumstances and are known around the league as one of the more potent scoring squads in the area.

“As we are winding down right now, our big thing is to heal up,” the veteran coach said.

Hernandez classified the unexpected, though not entirely surprising setback at San Benito last Tuesday, as a learning lesson – a bit of his teaching background slips through in his explanation.

“Experience,” he said. “It’s been a work in progress. The Hollister game was part of our learning curve. And that’s OK.”

Meanwhile, Salinas’ defense appears to be the ideal antidote to Gilroy’s up-tempo offense. The Cowboys, whose only loss this season came in nonleague play, have allowed just five goals in 18 tilts. The two teams played to an unsatisfying 0-0 draw in their first meeting Jan. 26.

“They have speed, they are aggressive and as a combination it’s tough,” Hernandez said. “They didn’t give us enough time to scan the field (in the last game). If we aren’t running at full speed it will be difficult.

“With Salinas, we know they will be full of energy. We know what to expect. So, we need to match that.”

First thing is first, of course, and that’s producing a ‘W’ at North Salinas.

–– During last Thursday’s 5-0 win over Alvarez, Cynthia Sanchez scored twice (15 goals this season), while Taylor Slattery (7), Connie Contreras (8) and Katrina Carter had the other goals.

–– Friday’s game against Salinas is also Gilroy’s Senior Night. Game time is slated for 5:15 p.m.

Christopher High

Dating back to Jan. 27, 2011 – a year capsule that includes the second half of last season – the Christopher High girls soccer team has won 13 of 17 Monterey Bay League games.

The second-year varsity program has a pair of contests this week, which mark the conclusion of the regular season. And two more wins equals a MBL championship. Victory No. 1  must come today versus two-time defending league titleholder Watsonville.

How’s that for an invigorating final week?

“We are all just really excited,” CHS head coach Janae Pimentel said Monday. “This week is really important.”

The Cougars (11-5-1 overall, 8-1-1 MBL) can take some solace in the fact that their 4-2 triumph over host North Monterey County on Thursday locked up a Central Coast Section postseason spot. The Cougars can finish no worse than second place and will earn one of the two automatic bids into sectionals. But that coveted league crown is perched on the CHS doorstep – there is no resting on laurels now. And Pimentel doesn’t see that happening.

“A lot of other coaches have come over and talked with the girls about how big of an opportunity they have,” Pimentel said.

“They finally get it. They realize that this is what their work can lead to. They really want to win league and get that banner in the gym.”

Watsonville (8-5-2, 10-1) defeated CHS 5-1 in the first encounter on Jan. 19. In that game, the Cougars played a competetive first half and the two squads went into halftime 1-1. The wheels fell off in the second however, and CHS played the final 40 minutes or so without two of its starters.

“We just became really negative at that point,” Pimentel recalled. “As long as we beileve we can win and stay positive that will help us. It’s really all mental for us right now.”

Another difference Pimentel pointed to for this next installment is the pitch surface.

Watsonville plays on turf, and with its speed and crisp passing, the Wildcatz proved tough for the Cougars to contain on the ‘fast track.’

“It will be a different game on natural grass,” Pimentel predicted.

“They pass very, very well. They are a big, strong team which makes for a physical game. It’s going to be tough.”

Game time today is 3:30 p.m.

–– Should CHS upset the Wildcatz today, a win at Pajaro Valley on Thursday would give the program the MBL title outright.

–– In Thursday’s triumph against North Monterey County, Emma Morley (2), Jamie Lanz and Alondra Villanueva tallied for the Cougars.


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