LEMOORE — It only took five minutes for the Tigers to seize control of their first-round playoff game on Tuesday.
No. 3 seed Lemoore (16-6-3, 6-2-2 WYL) scored in the fourth and fifth minute and eventually won 3-1 over No. 14 seed Templeton (11-9, 9-4 CCAA) at home to advance to the CIF Central Section Division III quarterfinals for a second year in a row.
“It’s always good [to advance],” Lemoore coach Eric Bow said ecstatically. “You just hope that you keep doing it all the way to the Valley finals and beyond if we can.”
Lemoore’s Pablo Gomez (4’) and Mathew Ramirez (5’) scored early, while Diego Nunez (68’) sealed the victory late for the Tigers. Ramirez and Nunez are the team’s two top goal scorers, and Gomez scored just his third of the season, according to MaxPreps.
“This is the playoffs, I told the boys you have to come out ready to play and dominate as a three seed over a 14 seed and they were prepared to do that,” Bow said.
Lemoore quickly controlled possession and generated a corner kick in the first 60 seconds. The early pressure continued and translated to a ball bouncing off the post and directly to Gomez, who was on the weak side and buried the shot for the 1-0 lead.
Ramirez followed up a minute later and made it 2-0 with his one-on-one shot against the goalkeeper. The shot went under the goalie’s hands and gently bounced off the post and into the net after Ramirez was able to evade a defender down the line.
“I saw [the defender] was taking me lightly, so whenever I see a chance to attack, so I took that opportunity,” Ramirez said. “I see I’m [one-on-one] with the goalie, looked him in the eyes and just finished it.”
The two goals gave the Tigers command of the game and they controlled possession throughout the rest of the half. Lemoore goalkeeper Justin Rodrigues made a save in the 23rd minute, Templeton’s only real scoring opportunity in the first half which came on a free kick.
“It was a big confidence boost,” Ramirez said. “Momentum was on our side, but you can’t be content. You have to keep wanting more and wanting more. Teams like this, if you leave them with a 2-0 lead, they’re going to find a way to get a goal.”
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The Eagles opened the second half by getting the ball into attacking third — something they failed to do in the first half — and finally found the back of the net in the 48th minute.
The next 20 minutes were a back-and-forth affair with teams trading shots, but never seriously threatening. The Tigers had three corners, but were unable to create scoring opportunities on any of them.
As the game wore on, the Eagles were forced to push their players into the attacking third to look for the equalizer. On one shot attempt, the Tigers finally took advantage and countered seamlessly with Nunez’s game-sealing goal in the 68th minute.
“I saw [Ramirez], he had a one-on-one so I thought, ‘I got to go with him and he’s going to give me the ball. I know he’s going to give me the ball,’” Nunez said. “I had a guy behind me, all I had to do was give him a little shove and I was in front of him and that was a goal right there.”
The counter was what Bow had been looking for the entire second half.
“[Templeton] had to push up numbers to try to even the score and that was a beautiful counter,” Bow said. “Just really long, quick, diagonal passes, just split their defense and easy, nice little slot to the far post.”
The Tigers’ constant pressure in the midfield and attacking third resulted in them outshooting the Eagles 20-5. Half of Lemoore’s shots also came on goal.
“We reached the semifinals last year, we’re one seed higher … so we’re hoping we can go all the way this year,” Bow said.
Lemoore will host No. 6 seed Porterville (14-9, 6-4 EYL) on Thursday at 6 p.m. Porterville defeated No. 11 seed Selma on Tuesday 3-1.
Noe Garcia can be reached at (559) 583-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noe on Twitter at @noecarlosgarcia.