With their first CIF Central Section Division III playoff game on the horizon, the Lemoore boys soccer team is in an unfamiliar position.
Their last winning record came during the 2008-09 season when they finished 14-8-2 and 5-5-2 in league, good for a tie in third.
The math on that is nine long years of finishing below .500 before the Tigers broke through this season with an overall record of 14-7-4 and 7-4-1 in the West Yosemite League.
They finished third in the WYL, behind Division II opponents Redwood and El Diamante who were awarded the No. 1 and 2 seeds in their bracket.
First-year coach Eric Bow has taken the program to new heights and a win today would catapult them into uncharted territory.
On how his team is handling the preparation, Bow said the team has a bit of nerves, but is ready to go.
“I think it’s to be expected,” Bow said. “I think they’re a little anxious … but I think they’re pretty confident. They know their abilities and they feel they can match up with pretty much anyone that’s in there.”
The Tigers head into the playoff game having gone 3-1-1 in their last five games and are coming off a 3-1 overtime win last Tuesday to close out the regular season.
Lemoore is 5-3-2 at home with two of those losses coming against Redwood and El Diamante. The Tigers have played everyone tough this season and that isn’t expected to change today, especially in front of a home crowd.
“For us, it gives us at least a chance for Lemoore fans to come out and see a soccer team that’s done what a lot of other teams haven’t been able to do in the past,” Bow said.
Their opponent is the McLane Highlanders. McLane was 10-10-2 overall and finished fourth in the North Yosemite League with a 5-4-1 record.
The Highlanders faced some tough competition in the NYL against Division I opponent Sunnyside and Division II opponent Reedley. They lost to Sunnyside twice and split their season series with Reedley defeating them 2-0 in their second match at home.
Home is one place McLane has fared well going 8-3-1, but they’ll be playing on Lemoore’s turf and that has proven to be an issue for the Highlanders.
They have a 1-5-1 away record and haven’t won a road game since they defeated Hoover 5-0 on Jan. 9.
For Lemoore, Josh Roa will be a big factor in today’s game whether it’s scoring, drawing defenders, moving the ball down the line or all of the above. The senior forward is second in Division III in goals with 26. He trails only Yoni Salais from Washington Union who scored 34.
Bow expects Roa to be marked for a majority of the game, but said that will open the field to others. He’ll have to have good field vision to find teammates like Jackson Fagundes and Chase Garcia, who are second and third on the team in goals, and give them some scoring opportunities.
Bow also added that the Tigers will be running a variation of the 4-4-2 and have focused on set pieces over the last few practices to try and create more goal chances.
Even with this being their first playoff game, Bow said he’s not feeling any pressure. He simply wants to advance because, as he put it, it would be “anticlimactic” to lose in the first round working hard all season to earn home field advantage.
“We should be able to make some noise, and I’m hoping that’s what we can do,” Bow said.
The game against McLane will begin at 6 p.m.