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Benefield: SRJC men's soccer to start playoffs on right foot

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It took the Santa Rosa Junior College men’s soccer team exactly 15 seconds to show the visiting Folsom Lake Falcons who was the better squad Friday, but the Falcons declined to accept that message until about the 80th minute, when the Bear Cubs scored again, and once more minutes later to finally put the game out of reach.

With the 3-1 win, the Bear Cubs won the Big 8 Conference banner and almost guaranteed themselves a No. 1 seed heading into Northern California’s regional playoffs next week.

Another thing that 3-1 win did? Exacted a little revenge on the Falcons, the only team in 19 games this season to blank the mighty Bear Cubs offense. These two teams tied 0-0 on Oct. 11 — the only blemish on Santa Rosa’s 9-0-1 conference record.

“It didn’t matter for Big 8, but it mattered huge for standings,” coach Marty Kinahan said of Friday’s home win. “It’s the difference between 1 and 2. You don’t want to lose your last game and limp into the playoffs.”

Those three goals keep the focus on the Bear Cubs’ outrageously potent offense.

The seeding committee will release its selections Tuesday, but the Bear Cubs gave the decision-makers little wiggle room. They are now 16-1-2 overall and 9-0-1 in conference and score an outrageous 3.4 goals per game. And what makes them even scarier is that they share the wealth. Double up on one guy and they have three more who are equally lethal.

Rigo Barragan, a sophomore who prepped at Windsor, has scored 13 goals and doled out eight assists. Freshman Alan Soto, who played at Montgomery, has 10 goals and eight assists and Alan Sanchez, who graduated from Ridgway High, has nine goals and 12 assists.

Sanchez was busy Friday. He scored in the first 15 seconds Friday, putting the Bear Cubs up 1-0 before most people had found their seats in the bleachers.

In the second half, he won the ball from a defender and set up Barragan for the back-breaker goal to make it 3-1 with eight minutes to play.

Adrian Fontanelli, a Rancho Cotate product, scored on a second-half penalty that made the score 2-1 and put his season total at 12 goals, seven assists.

“We can score on anybody,” Kinahan said.

And truth be told, they should have netted a few more Friday.

In just the fourth minute, the full prowess of the Bear Cubs’ offense was on display. Barragan drove down the left side and found a streaking Fontanelli, who then sent a perfect cross on the ground across the face of the goal that a sprinting Soto missed sliding into by an inch.

Barragan was on the second run and reached the ball but hit it over the cross bar.

It was like waves crashing on the beach. Folsom goalkeeper Arman Salimi must have been exhausted from that play alone.

Sanchez alone kept him busy for nearly 90 minutes. Sanchez got on the end of an early corner kick and struck it on a volley that required a lightning-quick, full dive to the right from Salimi for the save of the game.

“This is the battle of the north,” Barragan said. “We wanted to stay undefeated at home.”

Sanchez struck the opening blow in what must have been record time.

Before the game was a minute old, the Bear Cubs — as they usually do — sent the ball long and into the corner at the kickoff. Barragan got a cross off and it was deflected just so before Sanchez — coming in from wide right — settled it and sent a left-footed shot into the lower right corner of the goal.

Fifteen seconds is all it took.

But the Bear Cubs, for all of that offensive firepower, let the Falcons get back into the game. Marks were lost and the midfield broke down defensively enough times to give Folsom confidence.

At the 25-minute mark, Folsom sophomore Tanner Boyea gave a nice solo effort to tie the game and put the Bear Cubs in a position they haven’t found themselves in much this season — tied up.

“We have to eliminate the letdowns,” Kinahan said. “We have to just stay composed.”

That said, feeling a bit of pressure and batting back a fast-paced Folsom squad will be good prep for the Bear Cubs going forward.

“Everyone we play after this will be better,” Kinahan said.

“They are a good team and they run a pretty fast system,” Barragan said. “They play fast dynamic soccer.”

That pace led to plenty of fouls, especially in the second half.

“There is not bad blood, but no Christmas cards will be exchanged with us,” Kinahan said. “There is no love lost.”

That might have culminated when the Bear Cubs were awarded a penalty after a Falcon was called for a foul in the box. Fontanelli put it away to put the Bear Cubs up 2-1.

They iced it minutes later when Sanchez won the ball from a defender and dished to Barragan, who slotted it home to make it 3-1.

“It was a perfect pass,” Barragan said. “All I had to do was slot it in. That just sealed the game for us. It was like a sigh of relief.”

But make no mistake — the Bear Cubs are after bigger fish than the Falcons.

“This sends a message,” Sanchez said. “Our goal is to win state. Conference, winning it was good, but our main goal is to win state — go to the Final Four and take it all.”

Conference champs, home-field advantage in the playoffs — all good. But the Bear Cubs have already moved on, Barragan said.

“State champs — that’s the goal.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud, “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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