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Bulldogs edge out Pride in back-and-forth thriller
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Turlock High’s Nicolas Pelayo and Pitman High’s Jordan Wolfe-Hunnicutt battle for the ball during Friday night’s rivalry match at Joe Debely Stadium, a fitting image for the tight and highly contested game (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

A header from Turlock High senior Joaquin D’Ecoto early in the second half of their match against crosstown rival Pitman High proved to be the difference on Friday night as the Bulldogs edged out the Pride 2-1. The result gives the teams identical records at 1-1 after one week of Central California Athletic League competition.

Action was aplenty early on, as the rivals played with tons of physicality. The physicality almost turned into danger for the Bulldogs, though, as Pitman senior captain Gabriel Shallou Enens drew a penalty in the 20th minute. Shallou Enens found himself one-on-one with Turlock goalie Misael Guevara, but the two made contact as his shot ended up wide left of the post. Jonathan Rocha kicked the penalty attempt, but his shot sailed over the top goalpost, keeping the match scoreless.

The momentum quickly shifted to the Bulldogs, as Eduardo Zamudio took matters into his own hands just seven minutes later. With the ball in his possession, Zamudio dribbled through multiple defenders before delivering a strike into the back of the net, giving Turlock High a 1-0 lead.

It seemed as if the 1-0 lead would hold heading into halftime, but Pitman’s Vidal Murrieta had other plans. In stoppage time of the first half, just seconds before the whistle blew, Murrieta was handed the responsibility of delivering a free kick nearly 50 yards away from net. Instead of trying to serve the ball to a teammate, Murrieta went for the kill, and he succeeded. Murrieta’s bomb of a goal tied the game at 1-1, with the Pride bench full of energy and the Bulldogs in visible frustration.

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Despite having possession of the ball for the majority of the game and having a whopping 16 shots on goal, Turlock’s defense was able to keep Zach Looney and the Pitman offense in check on Friday night during the Bulldogs’ 2-1 victory (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

According to Pitman head coach Manuel Romero, he and his coaching staff weren’t exactly expecting Murrieta to take the shot from that far out, but they weren’t surprised he was able to get the job done. And they definitely weren’t upset.

“He’s a confident guy so we always feel good when we let him take the kicks,” Romero said. “He was actually supposed to get to someone in front of the goal, but he’s just confident and he drove the ball right by the goalie. He didn’t need to shoot it, but he made a point to get it through and things like that happen.”

While frustration could negatively impact a team, the Bulldogs used it as motivation. In just the seventh minute out of halftime, Zamudio made things happen once more, this time with a corner kick assist for D’Ecoto’s eventual game-winner.

“I’m really proud that we are a team that never gives up and always stays motivated,” said Turlock head coach Jose Garcia. “These guys just keep going whether they are up, whether the game is close or if they’re down, this is just a really good group of players.”

Garcia explained that the corner kick was a designed play and gave praise to Zamudio and D’Ecoto for executing it to near perfection.

“We practice that all the time, but they really did a good job and getting the ball in and finding an opening,” Garcia said. “Like I said, they stayed motivated and found a way.”

With nearly the entire second half left to play, the Pride continued to threaten the Turlock lead. The efforts fell short, though, despite the Pride having 16 shots on goal compared to Turlock’s seven. It’s something that Romero has become all too familiar with.

After his team’s draw to Denair last month, the first-year head coach made it known that his team does a great job, but that they just have trouble finishing.

“For some reason, we have trouble when we get the ball in deep,” he said in December. “We can control the ball the entire game, but the goals just aren’t going in yet.”

After the latest game on Friday, Romero’s words were nearly identical.

“We need to make it a point of emphasis in practice to get that confidence when we are in the box,” he said. “It’s not just on the players, but it’s on me and coaches. We need to do a better job. We know we’re a better team but we just beat ourselves. I give Turlock a lot of credit. They’re a great team and they played great today, but we know we’re better and they were better too.”

Garcia also gave praise to the Pitman squad, acknowledging the intensity of the match and the effort from all players.

“All respect to Pitman, it’s always intense,” he said. “It’s intense and close when we play everybody this year, but it’s a bit more when we go against them, but it’s all in good spirit.”

The Pride will look to get back into the win column on Wednesday against Enochs High at home. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs will look to keep the good times rolling when they travel up to Modesto that same day to take on Downey.