Delhi came to town and, with a tough defense, shut out the Trans-Valley League champion Escalon Cougars 3-0 in the first round of the playoffs.
Going into the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V soccer playoffs as the number two seed, Escalon hosted the Hawks, coming in as the third place team from the Southern League and the seventh seed. It was a 1-0 Hawks lead after 40 minutes of play, the game still well within reach.
“It was not the performance we had in mind,” admitted Escalon head coach Paul Silva. “It was the wrong time to have our worst game of the year.”
Escalon could never get in sync and had difficulty clicking on offense.
“I think nerves were definitely an issue,” Silva said. “This was the first time we were in the playoffs in a number of years so there were nerves, and nothing was coming together.”
Escalon won the TVL title with a 9-1 record and, with an anonymous donor paying to allow all Cougar fans to attend the CIF Section playoff game without being charged admission, there was a large vocal crowd there to support the squad.
“We couldn’t connect on our passes, we just weren’t linking up,” Silva explained of the difficulties the Cougars experienced.
He said the team got out of their normal pattern, trying to move the ball from deep in their own zone up the line to the forwards.
“We were bypassing the midfield,” said Silva. “We were sending the ball up the line, we did get some shots off.”
But that isn’t the normal way the Cougars play their game, the coach added, and it had them unable to get anything past a tight Hawks defense.
“I think if we were able to put a goal in, that would have settled us down,” Silva said.
But the goal didn’t come and even though the Cougars were down just 1-0 at the half and still had plenty of time, Silva said his players just couldn’t find the goal-scoring formula on Thursday.
“From the get go, I could tell they were nervous, a little anxious,” the coach explained. “We talked it over at halftime and I was hoping for a different result in the second half but it was more of the same.”
The coach said Delhi came in with a solid game plan and stuck to it.
“They were real disciplined defensively,” Silva said of the visitors.
They also put three players up top offensively, which left the midfield open and available, but the Cougars could not take advantage of that and, even when they did get shots off, never were able to punch one through.
Cougar keeper Ismael Gonzalez had six saves.
Despite the early exit from the playoffs – Delhi is scheduled to travel to Summerville for a 6:30 p.m. second round game tonight, Nov. 11 – Silva said the 2015 Cougars have plenty to be proud of for the campaign.
“This year, we set out to win league and make the playoffs,” he said. “We reached our objectives. That is a credit to this group of seniors, this senior class has won TVL three out of four years, they did as freshmen, as sophomores, they missed out last year as juniors but came back this year to win.”
Along with getting the varsity TVL crown this season, Silva said the team had plenty of solid supporting players in addition to the seniors.
“There were a lot of younger guys that contributed all season and hopefully we can carry it on into next year and the future.”
Escalon’s JV team also claimed the TVL title this season, and will send a number of players to the varsity level next year.
Still, Silva said the loss that ended their season was a tough one.
“I keep thinking, what could I have done differently?” the coach said of decisions made in the contest. “This one will stay with us, I think, for a long time.”
Escalon’s varsity boys compiled an overall record of 14-4 and, along with the TVL title, also took first place in the Ripon Christian Tournament so the season was definitely a success.
“We’re graduating a great senior class,” said Silva, “but we have a lot of talent coming back.”