The state championship remains elusive for the Fresno City men’s soccer team, which suffered a heartbreaking loss in penalties against Mt. San Antonio College on Sunday in Oxnard.
Shooting second and behind 5-4 in penalties, midfielder Jorge Garcia was tabbed with keeping the Rams’ championship hopes alive. Garcia shot for the lower left corner, only to see it stopped by Mounties goalkeeper Edwyn Gutierrez to clinch the title in sudden death at Ventura College.
Gutierrez, who had two key saves in extra time, was named Most Valuable Player. Andres Castrejon had nine saves for Fresno City. The Rams took 12 shots against the Mounties, but only two were on target.
The Rams (19-1-5) played 120 minutes of scoreless soccer – 90 minutes of regulation and two 15-minutes extra time-periods – against the Mounties (19-2-4) to force the shootout.
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“We asked before the game for them to give everything they had and they did. We just came up short and it’s devastating,” Rams 18-year coach Eric Solberg said.
For sophomore defender Andres Rios, the loss is a bittersweet ending to his JC career.
“It still feels great, we got to a point where we wanted to get to. It’s just unfortunate we fell after playing 120 minutes,” he said. “It was a great two years. I couldn’t have asked to be a part of any other team. At the end of the day, we all wanted to do it for our coach, but we fell short.”
It ends a remarkable season that saw Fresno City go unbeaten through its first 18 games to start the season en route to the program’s second appearance in a state title game under Solberg.
And like in 2002, the loss stings Solberg. The 2002 Fresno City team blew a 2-0 lead in the final 20 minutes to lose 3-2 to Santa Rosa.
“It’s almost too much to take as a coach,” he said. “You have to deal with the peaks and valleys of sports. Unfortunately, there’s more valleys than peaks, no matter who you are.
“This team was particularly close. We have a lot of very family-oriented players, which is why we’ll hang on to this. We refused to lose the game in regulation. It was very, very close, just unfortunate.”