Dylan Rusconi made sure Central High remained in the conversation for the top seed in the Central Section Division I boys soccer playoffs with one wicked boot.
The third-year varsity player drilled a shot from the middle of the box that was too hot for the goalkeeper to handle in the 78th minute to lift The Bee's No. 4-ranked Grizzlies over the No. 1 Broncos 2-1 on Tuesday and create a tie atop the Tri-River Athletic Conference standings.
Central (14-4-3, 7-1-1) and Clovis North (14-5-2, 7-1-1) share the league lead with one game to play — the Grizzlies at Clovis East and the Broncos at Buchanan on Friday.
The TRAC champion appears to be the favorite to land the top seed in D-I when pairings for the section's six boys and girls playoff divisions are announced Saturday.
Southwest Yosemite League champion Bakersfield and County/Metro Athletic Conference champ Bullard also will be in the conversation, but the Drillers have a loss to TRAC second-place Buchanan, while the Knights' overall record (13-7-4) is not as strong as Central or Clovis North.
And it might have been a moot point if not for Rusconi, who kept the Broncos from clinching their first TRAC boys soccer title.
"That's a big shot by a big-time player," Grizzlies coach Raul Martin said. "Dylan's been very consistent for us. When he had his opportunity, he did a good job of finishing."
Rusconi got free with the ball in the center of the field. He considered a pass to Jesus Paz, who had scored Central's first goal in the 28th minute, before deciding to take the shot.
Clovis North goalkeeper Matthew Stillwell, who had made several big saves to that point, got his hands on Rusconi's shot, but couldn't secure it.
"I just tried to hit it on target and hard," Rusconi said. "It hooked a little and it was a little slippery. That helped, too."
Central has been D-I's top seed each of the past two seasons, but is still seeking its first section title. The Grizzlies were ousted by Buchanan in the semifinals in 2012 and lost to Clovis West on penalty kicks in the final last season.
"We've picked it up lately and seem to be going good heading toward the playoffs," Rusconi said. "The last two years have been heartbreakers, but I think we can do it this year."
Clovis North, which got its goal from David Omi in the 35th minute, played most of the second half a man down after Austin Hathcoat drew a double yellow card. The Broncos got off three solid shots after Hathcoat's exit in the 43rd minute, but couldn't convert.
"We created plenty of opportunities to win the game," Clovis North coach Chad McCarty said. "This result doesn't change my expectations. I think we have a really good team that's capable of winning Valley. I don't think there are too many teams that want to play us."
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