Escalon crafted a 2-0 win in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section soccer playoffs, the boys going on the road at Summerville for a Feb. 18 contest.
They went in as the number six seed in Division V and shut out the host number three seed Summerville Bears to advance to the semifinals.
“Our first goal was from CJ Borrego, about five minutes before halftime, with the assist from Alexiz Rodriguez,” said coach Paul Silva. “Our second goal came about 10 minutes into the second half, unassisted.”
Silva said host Summerville did play a strong game, and the Cougars had a tough time early on keeping possession of the ball.
“We just didn’t do much,” the coach admitted of the early going.
But the late first half goal gave the visitors some confidence and momentum.
“We knew they would come out fired up in the second half,” Silva added of Summerville.
Escalon used that to their advantage, as the Bears made a push up the field, the Cougars were able to go on the counter attack and the ball got fed up to Rodriguez, who took it in toward the goal.
“He kind of waited for someone to come with him but no one did so he took the shot and got it past the goalie,” Silva explained of the unassisted tally. “After that we did a better job of controlling the game.”
Brayan Barrientos had seven saves against the Bears.
The win put Escalon into the semifinal round of the DV competition, where they had to square off against Trans-Valley League rival Hilmar. The Yellowjackets, the number two seed, hosted the game on Thursday, Feb. 20 and handed Escalon a 3-0 loss, ending the season for the Cougars.
“All three goals came in a span of about five minutes to start the second half,” explained Silva. “After the first goal, the team was kind of in shock and we just didn’t respond.”
During the regular season, Hilmar upended the Cougars 6-0 in Hilmar while Escalon returned the favor by getting a win on their home field, defeating the Yellowjackets in a hard fought 1-0 game in Escalon.
“In the first half we had a couple great opportunities to score,” Silva said of the Feb. 20 playoff game. “We hit the post, another pass went right across the goal mouth and past the goalie, our guy was there but took a swing and missed, it didn’t go in.”
In the second half, Escalon missed a penalty kick that would have given them some hope, said Silva.
“It was just one of those days, and that five-minute stretch was one we couldn’t recover from,” the coach admitted.
Barrientos had eight saves on the day but ultimately, the 3-0 decision ended Escalon’s season in the semifinals.
Hilmar went on to claim the DV Section title with a 5-4 overtime win against top seeded Linden.
The varsity Cougars compiled a 9-12-3 overall mark for the season and went 5-3-2 in TVL play.
After losing several standout players last year to graduation, Silva said he wasn’t sure what to expect for the 2020 campaign.
“It was a year of transition,” Silva said. “They weren’t the most talented team but they worked hard, the chemistry was great and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
The team also battled through some adversity, following serious injuries suffered by senior midfielder Jorge Arellano in a single vehicle accident – he was able to come back to watch from the sidelines late in the regular season and also accompanied the team to Hilmar for the playoffs.
“That really hit us hard,” Silva said of the accident, noting that the team struggled to regain its composure on the field after losing Arellano to the major injuries. “As Jorge improved, we improved. He became just such an inspiration for us all.”
At Senior Night festivities when the team honored its senior players, Arellano returned the favor, as he brought a poster thanking his coaches and teammates for their support, letting them know how much they meant to him as he continues his recovery.
“Our senior class was filled with leadership,” noted Silva. “We’ll have some talent coming back and I will be curious to see who steps up into those leadership roles.”