South Tahoe boys soccer eliminated by Sparks in regional semifinals
TRUCKEE, Calif. — The South Tahoe boys soccer team had its season end in painfully familiar fashion last Friday. The third-seeded Vikings lost to second-seeded Sparks 4-2 in the Div. I-A Northern Region semifinals at Riverview Sports Park — the third straight year the Railroaders eliminated STHS with a state tournament berth on the line.
“Some days are better than others, and today we didn’t have our best day — unfortunately the timing is such that we’re not going on,” Vikings head coach Ben Hannah said.
A defensive miscue shortly after kickoff put South Tahoe (10-6-2) behind two minutes into the match. The Vikings left four players unmarked in the box on a Sparks free kick from near midfield, leading to a shot that Railroaders midfielder Leo Bocanegra buried in the back of the net.
“It’s a game of mistakes — the team that makes the fewest mistakes wins,” Hannah said. “Today we made a few more mistakes than they did — and they capitalized really well when we did make mistakes.”
The Vikings had trouble maintaining possession and generating chances in the first half, and their best chance came in the 32nd minute on a close-range shot from forward Danny Lizaola that was blocked by a Railroaders defender. Two minutes later, Sparks forward Jesus Partida scored his 27th goal of the season — and the Railroaders took that 2-0 lead into the break.
“We came off the bus flat and didn’t pick it up until the second half,” Hannah said. “The main thing we lacked in the first half was drive and passion and a desire to win.”
Sparks (21-2-2) struck first after the break, extending its lead when midfielder Uriel Ramirez punched home a rebound in the 52nd minute. After falling behind 3-0, South Tahoe picked up its play — and quickly got on the board.
Shortly after the ensuing kickoff, Vikings forward Michal Lis beat a defender on the sideline and fired a low cross into the box. Lizaola got on the end of it for an easy right-footed finish that made the score 3-1 in the 53rd minute.
“In the second half, we started to play some soccer for a while — we came back a little bit and we gave them a fight,” Hannah said. “I was very proud of the way the boys kept their heads up for the whole game, especially after that first goal.”
The Railroaders went back up by three goals in the 66th minute, when forward Genaro Vasquez corralled a loose ball in the box and slid a shot past South Tahoe goalkeeper Eduardo Martinez. Lis converted a penalty kick in the closing minutes that offered little consolation in the Vikings’ season-ending 4-2 loss.
Friday’s match marked the third straight time South Tahoe had its season come to an end against Sparks a win shy of advancing to the state tournament. The Railroaders went on to upset top-seeded Truckee 2-1 in the regional championship Saturday to earn the north’s No. 1 seed in this weekend’s state tournament — the Wolverines downed fourth-seeded Fallon 4-1 in the other semifinal on Friday.
“It’s frustrating for all of us,” Hannah said. “I think that we match up well against them and on any given day that we have as many opportunities to move on as they do — they got the job done and we didn’t.”
South Tahoe entered the 2014 season talented but inexperienced, and showed continued improvement throughout the campaign. The Vikings closed out the regular season 8-1-1 in their last 10 matches, and headed into the postseason playing their best soccer before things came to a crashing end.
“I’m really happy with the season — we graduated 16 players last year and we had very few players with varsity experience at all,” Hannah said. “To start the season a little bit rough, shape them and mold them a little bit and then finish the regular season (strong) was really big.
“There’s an overall passion for the game back at the school again, and we’re happy to put a product on the field that is respectable — next year we’ll have a very strong senior class and we’re going to be good.”
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