Comets direct hunt for BVC supremacy

Squad tops Merritt, could end decade-long drought without conference title

By Lorenzo Morotti, Associate Editor

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Update at bottom of story*

The men’s soccer team snapped a 1-1 tie at halftime by scoring two second half goals against Merritt College at the Soccer Field on Friday to maintain its Bay Valley Conference lead with one game left to play this season.  

The Comets’ 3-1 win against the Thunderbirds increases their chance to clinch a second consecutive playoff berth, but more importantly edges them closer to claiming the 2015 BVC championship — after a decade without one. 

“It would be nice to go to the playoffs. It would be the second year in a row, but I am more excited for our sophomore players who turned the program around,” men’s soccer coach Nikki Ferguson said. “This group of men changed the cycle.”

“Last season, as freshman, they ended the nine-year (playoff) drought, and this season they have the chance to say that they were the first (Comet team) in 10 years to go to the playoffs on top,” Ferguson said. “If these players win a conference championship, then they create a legacy for themselves as a team — and breathe hope into the future of this program.”

Against Merritt, Contra Costa College (12-5-2 overall, 8-1-2 in BVC) freshman left wingback Ben Reiter and striker Alan Morales scored at minutes 21 and 50. 

Reiter scored by heading in a corner kick sent toward the far post and Morales cleaned up a loose cross into the penalty area with a left footed volley.

But it was at minute 72, when center midfielder Jorge Avina tucked away a penalty kick, that the final result was sealed.

Despite earning the desired win, Ferguson said at times his team was “sloppy and out of character” defending Merritt’s counter attacks, considering that the Comets have not allowed an opposing team to score more than one goal in 19 of their 20 games played this season.

After its penultimate game of the season, the Comets are at the top of the conference with 26 points and a .818 win-loss percentage before their final game of BVC play at Folsom Lake College on Friday at 4 p.m.

Since Yuba College lost its grip on a six-game undefeated streak with a 2-1 home loss against the Comets on Oct. 23, it has gone on a four-game winless skid. The 49ers were knocked out of BVC championship contention following a 1-0 loss against the Falcons on Friday in Folsom, California.

The only team threatening the Comets for the BVC championship as of press time Tuesday is Mendocino College (11-5-2 overall, 6-2-2 BVC).

The Eagles played at Merritt (5-13-1 overall, 3-7-1 in BVC) on Tuesday. The results can be found at cccaasports.org. But even if Mendocino won, it would still have to defeat College of Marin in Kentfield on Friday to share BVC supremacy — and the Comets would have to lose to Folsom Lake. 

“I do not think we played very well,” Ferguson said about the win on Friday. “We played well enough to get the result, but the defensive breakdown cost us going into the second half.”

He said because Merritt played a lot of direct passes into its attacking third in the air from the backfield, the tempo of the first half was “chaotic,” and kept both teams in constant transition.

Merritt was able to tie the game during the one minute added to stoppage time before the half, when Thunderbird midfielder Ivan Martinez rifled a right-footed shot with his laces past Comet goalkeeper Eduardo Escamilla from 23 yards out from goal with ample space in right center field.

“It was a tough, hard fought match,” Reiter said. “We knew (the Thunderbirds) were not going to let up and on any other given day, they could have scored a few more.”  

He said going up a goal early in the second half helped, but it was when Avina scored the penalty kick that made the team more confident in pressuring and in possession.  

Thunderbird center attacking midfielder Pablo Perez said, “After (Avina) scored the (penalty kick) everything broke down — I tried to get my teammates to keep their heads up and keep battling, but it is tough to go down a goal like that.”

Despite being tied with four shots at halftime, the Comets would go on to outshoot the Thunderbirds 10 to eight by the end of the game — Escamilla would save four Merritt shots that were on target.

The Comets’ decisive goal was generated off an errant pass in Merritt’s defensive backline.

The pass was intercepted by Morales at the edge of the Thunderbirds’ defensive third. He then burst into an open space to initiate a one-on-one situation with the goalkeeper that ended with center referee Ben Yates awarding a penalty kick at 72 minutes.

The foul was awarded because the Thunderbird goalkeeper, Michael Rodriguez, rushed out from the goal line toward Morales, who had slowed down to place his shot just as he crossed into the penalty area.

Rodriguez tried to smother the ball by sliding to the ground horizontally, but he missed and tripped Morales with his outstretched arms instead.

After a moment of clamoring from the Merritt bench, directed at Yates who had waited to call the foul until he was sure Morales’ shot was wide, Comet midfielder Jorge Avina stepped up to the spot and calmly slotted the ball into the left side of the goal with his right foot. 

After their loss on Friday against the Comets, Martinez said his team showed “heart,” but its players did not have enough skill to possess the ball while moving forward or communicate in the backfield to compete with CCC.

“(The Comets) did not have a player that showed weakness. They are a solid team that had better movement on and off the ball,” he said. “The condition of the (Soccer Field) is sketchy.”

*Update;

Due to Mendocino College tying against Merritt College 3-3 on Tuesday, the men’s soccer team is now the 2015 Bay Valley Conference Champion and has clinched a consecutive berth into the first round of the 2015 NorCal Regional playoffs.

“It is exciting,” Comet coach Nikki Ferguson said. “We have not been (BVC) conference champions in about 10 years. The program has been co-champions or runner-up until now. So this has been a long time coming, but we still have one more game.”

The Comets (12-5-2 overall,8-1-2 and 26 points in BVC) will play its ultimate conference game at Folsom Lake College Nov. 13, today, at 4 p.m. (5-13-2 overall, 3-6-2 and 11 points in BVC) with a commanding five-point lead above second place Mendocino (11-5-4 overall, 6-2-1 and 21 points in BVC).

“If Mendocino doesn’t win its next game (against Merritt) then we clinch playoffs and the (BVC) championship,” left wingback Benjamin Reiter said after their 3-1 win against the Thunderbirds on Friday, “But we will still play to win against Folsom regardless of the other results because we want to be the highest seed entering the (2015 NorCal Regional) playoffs.”

Last season, the men’s soccer team was knocked out of its first playoff game in nine years at Fresno City College in a 3-0 shutout on Nov. 22, 2014.

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