Comets spoil Eagles’ Homecoming, nearly clinch playoffs

Men’s soccer team extends undefeated streak to five in 1-1 draw on the road

By Lorenzo Morotti, Associate Editor

Ukiah — Despite Comet right attacking winger Missael Hernandez redirecting a free kick into the goal with his head at 53 minutes, the Comets’ defense ceded a goal with less than 10 minutes left at Mendocino College to conclude an intense rivalry match.

“(The Comets) won the game,” Eagles coach Shane Huff said. “I know we tied, but we had to beat them to be co-champions (in the Bay Valley Conference) with only two games left — now we have to win our remaining games if we want to have a chance to get into the playoffs.”

At 82 minutes into the game, Mendocino College (6-2-2 in Bay Valley Conference, 11-5-2 overall) defender Marcos Mendez slotted a lobbed ball past the Comet goalkeeper Eduardo Escamilla with a right-footed volley from the right side of the penalty area to seal a 1-1 in its Homecoming game.

Contra Costa College (7-1-2 in BVC, 11-5-3 overall) almost ruined the Eagles’ Homecoming when Hernandez connected with center attacking midfielder Jorge Avinas’ 45 degree cross from a free kick, about 40 yards out from goal in left field, in the center of the penalty area only eight minutes into the second half.

As M. Hernandez headed the ball toward the far post, Eagle goalkeeper Victor Hernandez simply watched the ball slowly roll into the net from the near post.

“It’s the story of our season,” Huff said. “A blunder in the back with the keeper, it was (M. Hernandez’s) first shot and (V. Hernandez) was stuck watching it roll by.”

After Tuesday’s 1-1 tie, the Comets (23 points) are still in first place in conference standings and one game ahead of the Eagles (20 points).

Holding onto first place in conference standings guarantees a berth into the playoffs, while second place will have to rely on a power point ranking system.

“We are in a good position to take the conference,” Comet coach Nikki Ferguson said. “We were able to hold out defensively and walk away with a point, and now we have an advantage if there is a tie breaker for first (place in BVC) — so we are in good shape as we head into our last two games against Merritt (College) and (Folsom Lake College), which will be an away game.”

The Comets next home game is Friday at 6 p.m. at the Soccer Field against Merritt, while Mendocino plays its next two games on the road against Merritt Tuesday and College of Marin.

It was not until the second half that either team was able to score any of its shots on goal. In the first half the Eagles outshot the Comets 4 to 2, and by the final whistle it was 6 to 11 respectively.

“(The Comet) goalkeeper kept his team in the game,” Huff said. “We consistently tested him and (Escamilla) came up big almost every time.

“He had a leg save during a one-on-one situation in the first half, and then two point blank saves within seconds of each other,” he said. “If you want to win championships, the goalkeeper has to make big saves, and (Escamilla) did just that.”

Escamilla tallied four saves by the end of the game. Only one shot on target escaped his grasp.

Only two minutes before Mendez scored the Eagles’ equalizing goal, Escamilla blocked two shots from less than 5 yards out.

This play originated off a foul that almost started a brawl on the field.

The resulting free kick in the left midfield lobbed the ball to the far side of the penalty area, from the 45-yard line, to Eagle forward Angel Mendoza who fired the first shot on a volley, while defender Ismael Rios was in a perfect position to clean up the loose ball in the penalty area.

“I was anticipating a header, but I still tried to read his movements. It was a shot — I had no time to react, so I deflected it with my left hand — and trying to grab it would have been too risky,” Escamilla said. “Once I pushed it away, I was at the near post and realized I had to cover my far post, so I scrambled and was able to block the second shot with my (right) leg.”

Before his game saving blocks, The Eagles were awarded a free kick when Comet right fullback Alejandro Gonzalez was given a yellow card by referee Nick Bartlett for confronting Eagle center defensive midfielder Omar Vazquez after a risky tackle on Comet center fullback Davis Okonkwo at midfield.

Okonkwo said that while he was reaching out for the ball with his leg, Vazquez’s cleat came down on his calf.

“(Rodriguez) went to go talk to him,” he said. “And that was when (Vazquez) went berserk and a fight almost broke out.”

A few minutes after Mendocino scored its tying goal, M. Hernandez walked off the field after he caught a cleat to the face while going for a loose ball, resulting in a 1-inch-long gash in his left nostril.

“I was pushed to the ground and his heel came down on my nose. All I could think about was the pain and the blood filling up my nostril,” he said. “I am still in a lot of pain and the athletic trainer said I need to go get stitches.”

Bartlett did not show a card to the Eagle player for the contact. Both Ferguson and Huff said Bartlett’s officiating showed that he is “naïve, with a lot of room to grow.”

The Comets played the final minutes a player down, but were able to hold off the frantic Eagle offensive drives and still create some scoring opportunities of their own.