Josue Barajas doesn’t necessarily look at his preceding three years on the Turlock High boys soccer team as a series of disappointments. All that matters to the senior forward right now is that his Bulldogs, who have endured many years of frustration, aren’t calling it a season just yet.
Next stop: Playoffs.
“I’ve always had a good feeling about this team,” he said.
Seven years after reaching their greatest postseason triumph, the Bulldogs are back at it again and have earned the No. 2 seed in the Central California Conference of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I Tournament that starts with Tuesday’s home match against Lodi High, the third seed of the San Joaquin Athletic Association. Action begins at 3 p.m.
The Bulldogs ended their historic regular season with an 8-2-5 record, and they did it against crosstown rival Pitman High in a convincing 3-0 win on Thursday afternoon at Joe Debely Stadium in front of dozens of fans.
The Pride had a long season, going winless in the CCC but also finishing with 11 ties.
Turlock, however, was only mostly dominant toward the end of the match. It wasn’t until junior forward Jose Ortega knocked in his own rebound in the 57th minute that the game began to evolve into a Bulldog victory. Three minutes later, Barajas — the Bulldogs’ four-year varsity player — dribbled the ball just to the right of the goal before firing in a 2-0 lead from about 15 yards out. That was enough to dismiss any thoughts of upset the Pride might’ve had on this afternoon.
Then came a speeding Ethan Tait, who’s shot in the final minutes bounced off the right post. But senior Jose Equihua, who was closely trailing the play, caught the loose ball with his head to issue the final dagger.
Why did it take so long for Turlock to score?
“I think we were a little nervous,” coach Doug Sperry said. “We knew it’s been a long time since the school has gone to the playoffs. The guys really wanted the second seed and have the home game. I think that got everyone nervous. We’re always nervous anyway when you play Pitman. It’s always a big game, no matter what’s going on.”
This wasn’t a do-or-die game to decide if Turlock would advance to the playoffs. It just felt like it, considering the crosstown rivalry aspect of the afternoon. In reality, the Bulldogs had secured a playoff berth before then.
The last time the Bulldogs were in this position was back in 2003, when that year’s team won all three of its preliminary rounds in a penalty-kick shootout of the Division I Tournament before losing 5-0 to Jesuit High in the championship game. That was Turlock’s greatest boys soccer finish, under the guidance of Chris Castro (now the Pitman junior varsity coach).
This year’s Bulldogs aren’t content with just being a playoff team, especially knowing previous Turlock teams had to endure years of frustration.
“This team hasn’t made it in such a long time,” said Ortega, the junior forward who started his team’s late rally on Thursday, “so this is a big, huge deal to finally make it. It’s all because of hard work. It feels pretty good.”
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