To the uninitiated soccer fan, seeing Pitman and Atwater high schools play for the first time Monday, one probably would have thought the first-place team was the visiting Falcons, especially during the game’s first 40 minutes.
However, when it was all said and done, Pitman left no doubt which team was better as the Pride ripped off four second-half goals en route to an impressive 4-1 win that showed why they are atop the Central California Conference with an 11-2 record.
According to Maxpreps.com, Pitman is also the No. 5 ranked team in California with an 18-3-3 overall record. Nationally, the Pride is ranked No. 33 in all of the United States during what has been an outstanding season in which the CCC title was wrapped up weeks ago.
In fact, the Pride has reeled off three straight wins, outscoring the opposition 15-3 along the way. Pitman has now won 10 of 11 heading into the season finale Tuesday versus Turlock, last year’s CCC champions who have fallen to 5-8 in league and 9-11-2 overall.
The star of Monday’s game for Pitman was undoubtedly the high-scoring Fernando Maldonado, the CCC’s second-leading point-getter, who fired in three goals and handed out an assist to lead the comeback.
For Fernando Maldonado, it was his second three-goal hat trick in two games as he blasted in three goals in Pitman’s previous win over Buhach Colony.
The game’s most exciting play came when Fernando took a ball, headed downfield and lofted a pass to his cousin and teammate Adolfo Maldonado, who sped down the field before slipping a beautiful pass to Grant Tallent, whose pass to Fernando created a superb goal.
“That’s what we love about Adolfo (second in the CCC with assists at two a game),” said Pitman assistant coach Cesar Mercado. “He’s so unselfish, and he easily could have finished that goal himself. But that’s Adolfo.”
While the Maldonado cousins did much of the heavy lifting, the aptly named Tallent dished off a pair of nice assists and senior Shawn Bassi handed out another.
However, the game started out problematically as Atwater came out with a full head of steam and kept the ball in the hosts’ end of the field for much of the first half.
“It was a Monday game and our guys really aren’t used to those, so it took us about 30-40 minutes to adjust. I was proud of the way we came back in the second half,” Mercado said. “We made some lineup changes and we played well. We’ve got a great group of guys here.”
Atwater scored first as Adalberto Guzman left-footed a goal past the diving attempt of Pitman’s senior goal-tender Marcos Martinez. Martinez, also a defensive player, was called into immediate duty when the Pride’s sophomore sensation, Jesus Nunez, was carried off the field by his teammates after suffering an ankle injury minutes earlier.
Martinez did a good job of holding Atwater’s explosive Guzman out of the net for the rest of the half and when play re-started, it was Nunez, the CCC’s No. 1 goal-tender despite his tender age, who shut down the Falcons over the game’s final 40 minutes. All told he made four saves in 60 minutes of work.
“Things got back to normal once we put Jesus back in there and we finally got our offense going,” Mercado said. “Jesus is a very good goal-keeper and he played an excellent second half.”
Second-place Atwater (6-7-1), which fell to fourth in the CCC, looked to have the game in hand in the first half but was overwhelmed by Pitman in the second half and Falcons’ coach Jimmy Brewer was none too pleased.
“They’re a good team but I definitely thought we should have won this one,” Brewer said. “You have to give Pitman credit though. They play well together and they have a very tough, fast, physical defense which makes it awful hard to score against them.”
Following Tuesday’s Pitman-Turlock reboot – Pitman has beaten the Bulldogs already this season – the Pride will prepare for the Sac-Joaquin Division I playoffs.