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Stunned By Ceres - Oakdale Soccer Squad Bows Out In First Round
Mustang defenders box out Ceres freshman Tomas Espinoza during Thursday nights playoff game at Oakdale; the host Valley Oak League champions lost on penalty kicks after regulation and two overtime periods. - photo by Photo Courtesy Of Alex Gutierrez

This one hurts.

Oakdale’s varsity soccer squad, after winning the Valley Oak League and right to host a first-round playoff game, was emotionally stunned after Ceres goalie Abel Reyes stopped their season short on penalty kicks, to advance 3-2 in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 3 playoffs.

Normally stoic senior standout Johnny Torres, was disconsolate and sitting Indian style on the sidelines staring glassy-eyed out at an emptying field where he spent four years of his life playing varsity soccer, but wouldn’t do so again. Harry Harris, the Mustangs leading scorer on the year, had a hard time making sense of it a half hour after the game – his thoughts scattered after 20 shots and only two goals in 120 minutes against the lower seeded Bulldogs.

“I had a shot point-blank and didn’t put it in the net,” Harris said, shaking his head. “I can’t believe I didn’t finish.”

But Ceres, 13-5-1 on the season, came to play.

Finishing second in the rugged Western Athletic Conference that features cross-town rival and state ranked #2 Central Valley, the Bulldogs were coming off four second half goals in a 5-2 win over American Canyon in a playoff play-in game two days earlier. Cris Torres gave the Mustangs defense problems and the entire Bulldog squad looked loose and lighter on their feet against the favored Mustangs, especially in the latter stages of a tense and physical playoff game. Senior forward Tomas Rocha drew first blood with a goal halfway through the first half and had the Mustangs playing out of their hand for the majority of the game.

The Mustangs, at 16-5-5, used to being in the lead after only one league loss on the year, were pressing as they played from behind, the usual crisp passing giving way to individual runs. At halftime, Mustangs coach Alfredo Quiroga stressed for his team to recover their form.

“Settle down and link the play,” Quiroga stressed to his suddenly jittery group. “Connect and collaborate – connect and collaborate….keep your heads up, it’s not over.”

And early on in the second half Harris tied it 1-1 with a goal that seemed to restore order as the Mustangs began controlling possession and pressing the Bulldogs’ defense. But then Oakdale, charging for a second score, was caught slipping off the counter-attack when a pass found the dangerous Rocha just past midfield who immediately cut from the sideline and made a straight sprint toward the goal. Defender Cody Trapp chased Rocha all the way to the goal-box but as he caught up Rocha craftily kept the Mustangs captain shielded from his left side and blasted a left-footer off a rolling bounce past Jake Hicks to put Ceres ahead 2-1 and Oakdale back behind the 8-ball.

Down 2-1 and in desperation mode with 17 minutes left in their season, Juan Rangel put the Ceres defense on their heels when he made a run that led to a corner kick. Trenton Pierson curled a pass inside the box where it found Davis Harper and four defenders. Harper was credited with the goal, but it could just as easily been a deflection off the back of a Ceres defender that bounced into corner of the goal and had the Mustangs believing in miracles. Ceres seemed to lose its footing for the first time in the game and during the two extra 15 minute overtimes, it was tough for the teams to muster any serious scoring chances.

It would take penalty kicks to decide it.

But it wasn’t meant to be for the Mustangs and Bulldog goalie Reyes made sure of it.

On the first shot, Reyes shudder-stepped before diving left and smacking away the first penalty kick. From then on, it was a lonely walk for the next three Mustangs penalty kickers because Ceres converted all its shots to compound the pressure and Reyes was clearly in a zone. When the senior, who seemed to gain confidence with each block and subsequent fist-pump, swatted away the final attempt and was mobbed by teammates in the corner, Oakdale was only left to wonder what came of a #22 state ranking by Maxpreps and a dominating VOL regular season record of 11-1-2.

“It’s like 1994 World Cup with Robert Baggio against Brazil,” Quiroga said afterwards. “Best player in the world and he misses a penalty kick…”

It was the same for the Mustangs, who collectively couldn’t find a way to put them in the net during the PK round … it wasn’t Oakdale’s night.

Harris, Trapp, Torres, Pierson, Jake Spani and other Oakdale seniors left the stadium without another chance to play state soccer power and Division 3 top seed Central Valley, who defeated the Mustangs just 2-1 at the Gregori Tournament in a shortened game earlier in season but would have been the likely Section finals opponent if the #2 seeded Mustangs could have won two more.

“Every team is due one bad game in a season,” Quiroga said. “We just happened to pick the last game to have our worst game of the season.”