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Bears boot Braves from soccer playoffs
The underdog put up a valiant fight but the Pierce High boys soccer team showed why it was the higher seed, pulling off a 2-0 victory Thursday against Hamilton in the opening round of the Northern Section Division III playoffs in Arbuckle.
No. 4 Pierce broke open a scoreless game with a goal in the final minute of the first half when Adolfo Ramirez kicked in a rebound after fifth-seeded Hamilton's replacement goalkeeper Luis Polino made a diving stop of a shot by Ulisis Flores.
Polino filled in at keeper after Roberto Roman went down with an injury in the first minute of the game. Polino played well throughout the game, making several saves in traffic and in one-on-one situations.
"He's a field player so he knows the game… so that's why it helps him a lot," Hamilton coach Merced Najera said.
Pierce (8-4-3, 5-3-1 SVL) entered halftime with a 1-0 lead despite playing the half with the brisk cross-wind in their favor.
Hamilton senior forward Adrian Chavarria had several scoring opportunities early in the second half, but Pierce keeper Victor Navaro twice took the ball off his foot with well-timed, sliding saves, and made another block on a free kick after fullback Uvaldo Alcaraz picked up a red card at the top of the penalty box for a collision with Hamilton's Anthony Romero.
The Bears added an insurance goal in the second half despite playing into the wind when senior midfielder Victor Santillan, who kept the ball on the ground, dribbled through two defenders and scored on a shot into the lower left corner of the net in the 68th minute.
Late in the second half, the Braves appeared to score off a corner kick, but a whistle stopped the play early and they were forced to re-kick.
"That was a set play and I told the ref that we had a set play, but he didn't communicate it with the other guy. That killed us, at that time the momentum was changing," Najera said.
Hamilton still would have needed another goal and with time draining off the clock quickly, it wasn't meant to be.
"I'm proud of the guys, how they played, we came here and nobody had the expectations that it would be that good of a game. We were missing three players, including two starters," Najera said.
Pierce advances on to the second round where they will play No. 1 Esparto, a team they tied 1-1 on Dec. 11. The Bears will have to play the game without Alcaraz, who must sit due to receiving a red card, but coach Michael Richins is optimistic about their chances.
"He played a pretty big role but he's not the only good defender that we have, I think we can fill in with them, they're all good coachable young men," Richins said.
In the months since playing Esparto to a draw, the Bears have improved significantly, he said, though he expects Esparto to be a much better team now as well.
The Bears have improved each of the past three seasons, starting with a 3-11 campaign two years ago to a 7-8 season last year.
"We get along a lot and we've been playing for a long time, we're like a family here at a small school," Santillan said.
Their second round game begins at 4 p.m. at Esparto High on Tuesday.
CONTACT Kirk Barron at 458-2121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.