LEMOORE — An unlucky bounce and the inability to find the back of the net cost Lemoore a chance to move on in the playoffs as they lost 1-0 to McLane at Tiger Stadium.
“You take [the season] as a work in progress,” Lemoore coach Eric Bow said after Tuesday’s game. “You take it on a very positive step for building something. This team here has started a different trend and trajectory for Lemoore soccer.”
Despite the loss, Lemoore (14-8-4, 7-4-1 WYL) finished with its first winning record in nine seasons and hosted a playoff game — something that hadn’t happened in a while.
The positive momentum is something that will surely carry over to next year’s squad, but that didn’t take away from the disappointment of a home playoff loss.
“We all played to our potential, but we played as low as they were,” Lemoore forward Josh Roa said. “[McLane was] a good team, I’m not going to say they weren’t, but we were a better team.”
The CIF Central Section Division III playoff game began with the McLane Highlanders controlling the ball for the first seven minutes and moving into the attacking third. The momentum switched over to Lemoore on a counter and it was their turn to try a couple shots at the net.
Neither team had any dangerous attempts until the 19th minute when the Highlanders played a ball out front and found some space outside the box.
A shot deflected off a Lemoore defender and back to the top of the 18-yard box where it found McLane midfielder Andres Nunez. The senior took a shot on frame, but it ricocheted off another Lemoore defender and into the left corner of the net.
The fluke goal appeared as if it would have been saved by Lemoore goalkeeper Jesus Lopez, who dove the right way, but the ricochet gave him no chance at a stop.
The Tigers had a chance in the 22nd when Roa found open space on the right side of the box, but he put a moonshot over the goal.
Lemoore forward Chase Garcia also had an opportunity late in the half. A through ball put him in position into the box, but his foot caught the top of the ball and it harmlessly rolled into the goalkeeper’s hands.
The Highlanders led 1-0 at halftime in a game that should’ve been nil-nil.
The next 40 minutes belonged to Lemoore. The team outworked and outmuscled the Highlanders every way possible. They earned corner kicks and throw-ins down the line, but what they couldn’t find was the equalizer.
Lemoore forward Jackson Fagundes had an excellent shot on goal in the 47th minute from 15 yards out. McLane goalkeeper Ryan Acosta jumped to his right and made the punching save.
Two corners would follow for Lemoore with both being put out by McLane’s defense. Excellent chances followed in the 68th, 72nd and 78th minutes, but the Tigers just couldn’t find the net.
On their last attempt in the 78th, Diego Ceja had a ball in front of him from 10 yards out, but barely made contact as it dribbled wide of the goal. It summed up the night the Tigers had.
“Where they failed is what we practiced during the week,” Bow said. “You saw the throw-ins, how close the opportunities were and absolutely no one stepped up to make a play. They failed to do that and that’s why they failed to score.”
The Tigers finished with 18 shots, eight shots on goal and seven corners. McLane had 12 shots, six shots on goal and one corner coming in the 76th minute. The Highlanders were also limited to one shot on goal in the second half.
Bow said he didn’t believe the team ever scored on a corner kick this season and it came back to haunt them. The first-year coach added that it was disappointing because of how many more clear-cut scoring opportunities they had created than McLane.
“Mentally we weren’t there,” Roa said. “[Our shots on goal] were all almost there … but we couldn’t get it in. It’s disappointing.”
It was only McLane’s second road win of the season. The Highlanders were 1-5-1 on the road during the regular season and hadn’t won a road game since Jan. 9, losing four in a row in the process.
The bittersweet end for the Tigers left a moment to reflect on the season. Roa, a senior, said he wished the team could’ve gone further, but he was happy with how the season panned out.
Garcia shared the same thoughts and said the team gave it their best effort on the field, but wasn’t able to pull it out on Tuesday.
“We’re getting better,” Garcia said. “We’re actually getting up in the ranks and this future talent is something to look forward to.”
The Tigers are going to lose nine seniors (five starters) and will have to fill a huge void that Roa — the second-leading scorer with 26 goals in the Central Section Division III — will undoubtedly leave.
But they’ll have guys like Fagundes, Garcia, Jesus Amador, Pete Hawken and others all coming back to try and make another run in the playoffs next year.
“We expect to be even better next year and hopefully we can prove that by advancing in the playoffs, not just making it,” Bow said. “Now that we’ve been here we can handle the situation better, we know what to expect and what to prepare for and what to do better in order to advance.”