Gerardo Perez had a goal and two assists as the fourth-seeded Vintage High boys soccer team opened the North Coast Section Division I playoffs with a 4-0 win over No. 13 seed Dublin on Wednesday night at Memorial Stadium.
The Crushers (17-3), winners of seven straight, will host No. 5 seed Clayton Valley Charter (17-1-4) in a quarterfinal on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Memorial Stadium. It will be the first-ever meeting between the programs. The Ugly Eagles tied Acalanes for second place in the Diablo Valley Athletic League, which sent eight of its 13 teams to the playoffs.
“They’re uncharted territory for us,” Vintage co-coach Alex Feliciano said.
Clayton Valley dispatched No. 12 California-San Ramon, 2-1, atoning for a scoreless tie with the Grizzlies in their season opener. The Eagles are on an 18-game unbeaten streak that includes three ties, including a recent 1-1 deadlock with Ygnacio Valley – a team Vintage stunned 2-1 with two late goals in December – and a 2-0 win over Dublin (10-8-2).
The Crushers posted their seventh shutout of the season, and second in a row since beating Sonoma Valley 4-1 – their fifth win in which their opponent denied a shutout with a second-half goal.
“That’s something that we’re trying to tighten up, and pride ourselves on clean sheets,” Feliciano said. “Momentum, especially in high school sports, is a beast of its own. The game can turn on its head, so you’re always trying to keep your back line and goalkeeper focused and engaged and switched on, just to keep that clean sheet. Blanking somebody just gives you a lot of confidence moving on to the next game, knowing it’s a tight ship back there.”
Yahir Escalona scored on a Perez assist for a 1-0 lead in the third minute. A minute later, Escalona assisted on a Perez goal to make it 2-0.
From there, Vintage goalkeeper Tanner Griffin made saves on the few balls that got past center backs Ian Reis and Angel Tapia.
“I’ve got to thank my defense – Ian, Tapia, Tate (Salese), ‘Sonic’ (Jose Avina), Javi (Barbosa), (Eric) Javar, Jason (Fuentes). They always help me out, have my back,” Griffin said. “Coach Alex always tells me ‘you’ve always got to be on your toes, no matter how much your lead is, and be ready for every shot so you can keep that shutout.’ We want to show everyone who we really are. It’s always good to have a shutout. It’s a good confidence booster. It helps with our momentum going into Saturday and the game after that, all the way to the final.”
Added Feliciano, “As I told Tanner while he was warming him before the game, you’re only going to go as far in the playoffs as your goalkeeper will take you. Everybody feeds off you and if you’re carrying the team, your teammates know if they get one goal, they’re good. It’s a big job and you have that pressure, but you can be the man, the hero, and everybody can feed off that.
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“He’s super humble, a great teammate, he’s good at communicating and organizing things in front of him, and he’s always looking for feedback to get better. He’s come a long way since his freshman year.”
Emmanuel Duran scored to make it 3-0 on a 3-on-1 counter attack about 10 minutes into the second half. Perez crossed a ball that Justin Sotelo could have relayed in, but Sotelo let it go past to let Duran make the shot.
“He did a ‘dummy,’” Feliciano said of why Sotelo deferred to Duran. “You look like the man that’s obviously going to hit it, so the defender’s going to come to you and you just let it roll through because you know there’s a guy behind you that’s going to be wide open.”
But Sotelo got his goal with about 15 minutes left anyway. Getting a pass from Ian Reis, he beat a defender to a ball and booting it in to the left of the Gaels goalkeeper from 35 yards out.
That made the other goalie pretty relieved, though Griffin was making saves all the way until the final whistle.
“It relieves my chest,” Griffin said of the 4-0 lead. “I thank all of my forwards and midfielders for scoring those goals and helping our defense out.”
Despite the dominant win, Feliciano said the Crushers had plenty to work on in practice Thursday and Friday, especially their transition defense. They don’t want Clayton Valley to catch them off guard like Vintage did against Dublin, which gave up the second and third goals while having more players attack than stay back on defense.
“When we win the ball back, can we counter and go fast in transition,” said Feliciano. “Good examples of that were our second and third goals, catching them when they pushed numbers up. But we were left exposed ourselves a couple of times, like on a corner kick or losing the ball in the midfield – getting caught out of position and unaware. We need to tighten up our transition on both sides of the ball.
“We also need to work on our possession, building out. We’re a team that wants to build from the back and swing the ball around, and it got really sloppy for us in the first half after we scored those goals. They started pressing a lot more because they were down and we didn’t deal with that pressure very well. Our spacing was a little off and our touches were a little bit sloppy. They started to get some momentum, and belief, and that’s a dangerous thing to play with, especially in the playoffs.”
In other openers on the same side of the bracket, No. 9 seed Napa saw its 13-7-1 season come to an end with a 4-1 loss at No. 8 Monte Vista in Danville, and No. 1 seed Montgomery blanked No. 16 Foothill to earn a quarterfinal against Monte Vista.
On the other side of the bracket, No. 2 De La Salle got past No. 15 Amador Valley of Pleasanton, 3-2, No. 3 San Ramon Valley downed No. 14 Castro Valley, 4-1, No. 6 Berkeley blanked No. 11 Freedom, 2-0, and No. 10 Pittsburg upset No. 7 Richmond, 3-1.
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