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Bulldogs fall short in D2 section final
Bella Vista beats Turlock 5-4 in penalty kicks
Turlock's Martin Castoren advances the ball down field during the first half of Saturday's Division II SJS Section Title match against Bella Vista. - photo by FRANKIE TOVAR / The Journal

Few gave Turlock High’s boys soccer team a fighting chance against the undefeated Bella Vista High Broncos in Saturday’s Division II SJS Section final match, but for more than an hour and a half of play the Bulldogs proved their appearance at Lincoln High was no fluke.

Though many doubted them, head coach Doug Sperry and his boys never bought into the underdog role. Instead, Turlock opted to fight to the bitter end. The Bulldogs (16-6-5) and Broncos (20-0-2) competed neck and neck in the cold through two regulation periods and two overtime periods, leading to a sudden-death shootout to decide who would walk away as champions.

Turlock’s Jose Aguilera, Jonathan Lopez, Christian Olide, and Alan Trellas each found the net on their penalty kicks while reserve goalie Aldo Rodriguez trapped a Bronco shot with his body, recording a much needed to save to keep his team in the match. Five shots had been taken and Turlock and Bella Vista were again even.

After Bronco Tyler Miguel stepped up for the sixth shot and pushed it past Rodriguez, the pressure landed on Turlock’s Desmond Madrigal who sent the ball into the left corner of the goal only to be rejected by the fist of Bella Vista’s goalie Drake Callender. Turlock’s season was over and Bella Vista was again Division II champions.

“It could have gone either way at the end,” Sperry said. “A lot of people didn’t give us a chance but I think we proved that we deserved to be here.”

Prior to the shootout the Bulldogs and Broncos were knotted 1-1.

Bella Vista was very physical from the onset of the match, sending Bulldog players to the turf and drawing the ire from the opposing bleachers on a routine basis, but Turlock fought back and refused to be bullied. The Bulldogs jumped out to a first half lead when Martin Castoren supplied Dylan Castro with the ball in the 20th minute.  Castro let loose a left-footed shot across Callender’s face for the goal, surprising Bronco players who wore a look of disbelief on their faces. Turlock’s goal was the highlight of a first half that saw its boys control the tone of play.

“They were a very physical and emotional team, probably the most physical team we’ve played all year,” Castro said. “Once we got that first goal our energy went up and we felt like we could win this game and so we fought as hard as we could.”

The Broncos had their fair share of scoring threats in the first 40 minutes but goalie Daniel Saldana rejected each shot with precision. Bella Vista’s inability to find the net disappeared in the second half when a corner kick ricocheted off the foot of Mathew Waldron and past Saldana for the tie. The rest of the match was essentially a stalemate with each team missing opportunities for the go ahead goal. Turlock’s best chance came in the final minutes of the second half when Castoren chipped the ball to a wide open Aguilera a few feet from the goal but a handling call against the Bulldogs nixed the opportunity.

“They’re a big, strong, and talented team but we never thought of ourselves as underdogs. We always knew we were capable,” Sperry said. “I can’t even describe how proud I am; we did an amazing job.”

The loss ends a Central California Conference Championship season for Turlock, a run further elevated by only its second section title appearance in school history. Nine seniors will be gone by next year but the return of Castro, Castoren, Madrigal, and Aguilera provides high hopes for 2013.

“This was a story book season. We weren’t even supposed to win league, people counted us out all year, and look where we got— the section final,” Castro said. “We came up short but we couldn’t ask for more.”