For the first time in school history the Pitman High boys’ soccer team was one win and two goals away from being able to compete in the CIF SJS Division-I championship game.
After struggling in the first half the Pride battled back in the second, but were unable to capitalize on key shots from Fernando Maldonado, as they fell in the semi-final match on Wednesday against the visiting third-seeded Granite Bay, 2-1.
“In the first half we were a little jittery and made some mistakes that unfortunately cost us two goals and Granite Bay was able to capitalize,” Pitman head coach Oscar Mercado said. “The second half was excellent, we had opportunity after opportunity. If we had maybe five minutes I feel we would have gone into overtime.”
Scores from Jeff Gaebler and Corban Anderson in the first half proved to be enough for a stacked Granite Bay squad behind a physical defensive performance.
A second half comeback was in play as the Pride nearly scored on four occasions, with junior Maldonado nearly netting them all along with the help of striker Grant Tallent.
“We have come so far, so we expected to make the finals and win. Stinks that it ended this way but we put it all out there and we just didn’t come out with a win,” Tallent said. “It took us a while to break them down but we came out in the second half and we started breaking them down with one and two touch, which is what we are used to and once we started focusing we tried to get by them, but it was not enough.”
Sophomore goalkeeper Jesus Nunes continued to impress spectators as he shut down the Grizzlies offense in the second half, making crucial stops when needed, but the offense was unable to contest.
“Nunes saved us quite a bit, he made extraordinary saves, to have this experience as a sophomore is great because he has that much to grow,” Mercado said.
It was in the 15th minute of the second that Pitman’s Shawn Bassi was able to net the team’s only score after striking a shot that deflected off the defender.
Key defensemen Brent Davis suffered an injury, which impeded his play and coach Mercado felt that it caused an impact in adjusting the defense.
“He added a strong presence in the back line and complemented the midfield as well. We moved him up as a sophomore for a reason,” Mercado said.
The Pride knew they played their best and regardless of the outcome felt accomplished after finishing the most successful year in the program’s young tenure as Central California Conference champions.
“This is the farthest that we have reached and we are pleased,” Mercado said. “We tell the kids to be part of the final four teams in D-I is a huge honor. It was a close game and we are really proud of the group.”
“It’s awesome, really great to go out my senior like that as the best team in Pitman history but right now,” Tallent said. “Obviously, it’s a little sad we couldn’t go farther, but its great looking back on it and see that we did so well.”