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‘Jackets tops Lowell to reach Nor Cal semis
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Vincent Moran (5) of Hilmar High makes a move on a defender during the first half of Tuesday’s win over Lowell in the first round of the CIF Northern Regional tournament. Hilmar won in PKs, 4-1 (EDDIE RUIZ/The Journal).

The No. 3 Hilmar High boys soccer team advanced to the Division-V CIF Northern California Regional semifinal game after they defeated No. 6 Lowell High on Tuesday from home in penalty kicks, 4-1.

“They never gave up, they just kept working and working and that last goal to tie it then in PKs, everybody stepped up, so it was very pleasing,” said Hilmar head coach Louie Bettencourt. “First half was a little ugly. I think we started a little flat in the beginning and we got a couple of wake-up calls.”

Lowell, who was a No. 1 seed in their section tournament, fell in their semifinal game, 2-1, to Lincoln of San Francisco. They were looking to turn things around, while Hilmar has been on a mission for a state title since last year ended.

Following their second straight D5 Sac-Joaquin Section title, Hilmar earned a berth in the D-V state regional tournament.

They made it work and earned their 20th victory of the season after playing 26 games as they go to 20-6 on the year heading into their second-round contest.

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Hilmar High’s Vincent Moran (5) and his teammates celebrate after he scored the game tying goal in the second half of Tuesday’s win over Lowell in Penalty Kicks, 4-1 (EDDIE RUIZ/The Journal).

The last time Hilmar lost a game was on Feb. 13, when they fell to Livingston 2-1.

Since that loss, Hilmar has won four straight games after Tuesday’s close victory.

It came in PKs, but at one-point Lowell led.

It took just three minutes for Lowell to score off a miscue by goalkeeper Ethan Aiken.

The ball went through Aiken’s hands and into the back of the net and Lowell went up 1-0.

Before the 15-minute mark, three goals had been scored after Hilmar responded, but then Lowell scored the go ahead at exactly the 15-minute mark.

That would be the last time that Lowell would score as the Hilmar defense buckled down and stymied any attempts inside by the opposition.

If any attacking attempts came inside the middle of the field or near the penalty box, a combination of Fernando Castaneda and Edgar Chavez would clear the ball away almost immediately.

“I told them they were playing long ball, so I told them to hold it off a little in the middle, and you have to deflect some of those balls because if you give them a gap, they have two strikers who can get on the ball, so I told them lets shut down the middle,” said Bettencourt. “If they are going to do anything in the second half, let’s force them to come in and that is what we did and made it harder on them.”

If for any reason they missed it, Aiken would come out and snag the ball from the air or just control it and keep it away from reaching the back of the net.

With about 10 minutes remaining in the game, Vincent Moran made a sprint down the line and then with a side angle from about 15 yards, he ripped a shot to the opposite side post as it clanked off and into the back of the net to tie the game at 2-2.

“When we were down 2-1, I told them we have to get after that goal and I told them to listen up and start pushing up on the top, and to make the field smaller so there is more of an area in the middle and put pressure on them and it worked,” said Bettencourt. “That goal by Vincent was just impressive, off the post, and in, could have been off the post and out, but good to see.”

Following a scoreless 15-minute golden goal extra time, the game was then forced to go into PKs.

Once in PKs, Hilmar made easy work as all four of their first shooters made their shot.

Jose Guerrero, Marc Matos, Miguel Padilla and Eladio Madrigal each made their penalty shot and Aiken saved the first one which proved to be crucial and enough to advance.

No. 3 Hilmar will next travel to No. 2 Anderson for the tournament semifinal game and they will square off at 4 p.m. Thursday.