It's a frustrating finish
to M-A's unbeaten season
The game was already over when Menlo-Atherton senior Edgardo Molina lined up for a penalty kick. His team was trailing, 3-1, and the Watsonville players were already celebrating.
Because a Watsonville player had been called for a handball just before the final whistle, the match couldn't end on a penalty and thus Molina took the penalty kick.
He clanked it on the left post and the ball ricocheted across the front of the goal and harmlessly rolled away. With that, the dream of an unbeaten season was over for the Bears.
"Missing that PK at the end . . . that just summed up our day," said M-A coach Jacob Pickard.
Top-seeded Menlo-Atherton came into the match with a 17-0-5 record, hope for an unbeaten season and the program's first Central Coast Section Division I championship since 1994. It was also Molina's 19th birthday, so there had to be a present coming.
But, there was no unbeaten season, no title and no present. The 3-1 loss put an end to all those hopes and ended an otherwise highly successful season for the Bears at 17-1-5.
"It was a good season," Pickard said. "Unfortunately, one loss put a bad light on it. That's what the kids will remember. I told them yesterday, 'Tomorrow is the one game we'll be judged by.'"
It was an emotional day in many ways for the Bears. Senior Julian Alcala attended a funeral in the morning for a friend who had died of cancer a week earlier. M-A team manager Katherine (Miss Kitty) Moore collapsed from heat-related issues with about 18 minutes left in the first half, but was able to walk (with assistance) to the shady side of the field where she watched the rest of the match. And then came the red card.
M-A junior Alexei Lopez was issued a yellow card with 13:05 left in the half and voiced his displeasure with the call. Instead of letting it go, he persisted to argue the call until the ref pulled out a second yellow and then a red, sending Lopez to the bench for the remainder of the game.
"The red card said a lot," Pickard said. "It set the boys off, sending a message the refs were favoring other players. The rest of the half we had no composure. I felt the entire first half was a waste."
It didn't help that Watsonville had taken a 1-0 lead, either, coming in the 31st minute. An M-A defender went for a steal and missed, with the Wildcatz advancing the ball up the right sideline. From there, it was centered to Jose Flores in front of the cage and he finished.
Trailing 1-0, the Bears came out of halftime with a new determination and took the game to Watsonville. The always dangerous Molina got free on a long run and shot, which was defended. The Bears had three more good opportunities, including a direct kick by senior Aaron Oro from just outside the penalty box with just over 29 minutes left.
Once again, the Bears came up empty. The Wildcatz, however, did not. Flores broke free and slotted a pass to Alex Cibrian for a goal and 2-0 match with 25:24 left. Four minutes later, it was Flores again as he got behind the Bears' defense for a 1v1 with keeper J.P, Nash. Flores won the battle and it was 3-0.
With 7:35 left, Molina finally got the Bears on the scoreboard as he took a long bouncing pass and chipped it over the keeper. Molina raced into the cage, retrieved the ball and ran it back to midfield as time was running out.
With 2:00 remaining, Oro got free for a shot just outside the penalty box, but ripped it over the crossbar. Had he scored, it would have been 3-2. In stoppage, Elvis Abarca Cervantes sent a direct kick over the crossbar. Finally, Molina missed the PK. The Bears came that close to tying and going to overtime.
But, as Pickard said, it wasn't his team's day.
"Some of the calls . . . they felt they were wronged," Pickard said of his players. "Their mentality let them down today.
"Today was a day full of emotion. Unfortunately, a lot of it was negative."
For 16 M-A seniors, the match marked the end of their prep careers. Molina was in tears afterward while Oro, one of three tri-captains along with Molina and Will Cabral, walked down the line of his teammates and congratulated each one. One loss had never been so painful.