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Academica clinches playoff spot after wild end to season
Manuel Villegas of Academica sprints past a defender during a game earlier in the year. Academica finished third in league and advanced to the postseason (Journal file photo).

The Turlock-based pro soccer team Academica SC qualified for the playoffs and finished in the top three of their league after handling the East Bay Stompers this past Saturday, 10-0. 

“Came out of left field… was last league game of the season,” said Academica President Simon Bettencourt. “When Saturday started, we also needed another game to end in a tie and it did, and we had to win by eight goals or more.” 

The circumstances that needed to happen to ensure a playoff berth for Academica seemed impossible — but, in the end, all the pieces fell into place.

For starters, in the game that Academica needed to end in a tie between two of the top four teams heading into Saturday was decided in the 85th minute. 

“We were in fifth place in our conference heading into Saturday, top three go to playoffs and between the two teams if either won, we had been eliminated,” said Bettencourt. “Well, they tied 1-1, and played at noon while ours was played at 6. So, we heard that an got a little hope. Then East Bay showed up with a depleted squad, and we had a shot and really went for it.” 

By halftime of Saturday’s home contest, Academica had taken a 7-0 lead after two red cards were called on East Bay in the first half. 

Three more goals were scored in the second half, as they won by the eight-goal margin, earning a bid into the postseason and placing third in the Golden Gate Conference of the National Premier Soccer League. 

“We didn’t win the league, can’t say it was a perfect season, but making playoffs makes me proud. In a short season we went from just joining two years ago to making the playoffs and it is tough in this conference. We’ve just gotten better and better,” said Bettencourt. 

After placing fifth last season, Academica bested their outcome and finished league with a record of 5-4-2 this year.

“Sergio Sousa, our head coach was the most hopeful of us all,” said Bettencourt. “He really believed it would happen. This year has been fair in conference, everybody has beaten each other and there’s always that possibility. He portrayed that to our players, especially in training. Even though some thought it was the last week, they gave it their all and accomplished the mission.” 

Prior to the last two games, Academica had seen a four-game winning streak. 

“Cody Golbad picked it up the second half of the season, absent first half and he scored nine goals in the second half, which helped propel us to this finish. And having the addition of Alonso Lara, a local legend, and his leadership out of the goal really solidified our defense,” Bettencourt added.

Next for Academica is a playoff contest on the road against FC Davis at 7 p.m. Saturday.