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Benefield: SRJC men's surprise playoff exit will serve as fuel for soccer program

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This story was updated Dec. 5.

By Marty Kinahan’s reckoning, he should have been coordinating practices this week. The Santa Rosa Junior College men’s soccer coach should have been scouting southern California teams. He should have been making team travel plans.

What he should not have been doing is making split pea soup.

“Split pea soup is my cathartic recovery,” he said. “It’s comfort food.”

After his Bear Cubs were ousted in the third round of the California Community College Athletic Association NorCal Regional tournament Saturday, Kinahan suddenly has time on his hands, time he didn’t think he’d have. To be fair, I thought he’d be busy this week, too. I didn’t see this soup on the menu.

The Bear Cubs earned the No. 1 seed in the NorCal Regional playoffs by putting up a 16-1-2 record en route to the Big 8 Conference title. The top seed earned them the right to host all three regional playoff games.

But in cold, rainy weather Saturday, the No. 4 seed Foothill Owls walked away with a 2-1 win to end the Bear Cubs’ season and send Kinahan into the kitchen.

“We didn’t have our best game in the biggest game,” he said.

What was said after the game?

“I said I was sad. This was a journey, this was meant to go on,” he said. “It wasn’t lack of effort or because we didn’t want to go on. We just went sideways.”

Maybe the Bear Cubs went the way of the rain. Conditions were not optimal. It rained throughout the contest, it was cold and the wind was gusty at times. And the Bear Cubs just never looked comfortable.

Coming into the contest, the Bear Cubs were averaging a phenomenal 3.4 goals per game while allowing a stingy .71 per contest. And they shared the load — players up and down the roster had netted goals all season long.

Sophomore Rigo Barragan, who prepped at Windsor High, had 13 goals and 10 assists, while freshmen Alan Soto, who played for Montgomery, and Adrian Fontanelli, who prepped at Rancho Cotate, had 12 goals apiece and nine and eight assists, respectively. Freshman Alan Sanchez, who graduated from Ridgway High School, had 10 goals and 12 assists on the season.

The team could score in bunches.

Case in point: When they fell behind 3-0 to Modesto in a road game in early November, Kinahan insists he didn’t question his team’s ability to climb back into it. That goals-per-game average can keep the panic at bay.

Sure enough, the Bear Cubs scored in the 55th minute to make it 3-1, then again three minutes later to make it 3-2, and again in the 76th minute to tie it. A goal in the 83rd made it 4-3 Bear Cubs and cemented this team’s reputation for never being out of a contest.

That ability to score, and score late in a game, can inject a massive amount of unspoken confidence in a team.

So when the Owls went up 1-0 in the 16th minute Saturday, I don’t think anyone blinked. And when they scored again early in the second half to make it 2-0, the contest still didn’t seem out of reach. This is a Bear Cubs team that scored four goals in one half against Modesto on the road.

But Kinahan said he noticed something after the second goal.

“It rattled our mentality a little bit, that second goal,” he said.

And the Owls’ propensity for hitting the deck and demanding calls got under the Bear Cubs’ collective skin. Jawing — at refs, at other players — became a factor for both teams.

“We did a lot of things that are not characteristic,” Kinahan said. “A lot of guys were taking it upon themselves and they started making it personal. As a team we play really well; as individuals, we don’t.”

Still, the Bear Cubs were largely outplaying the Owls.

When Fontanelli scored with 28 minutes to play, it seemed like the Bear Cubs had all the time in the world. And, at times, they played like it. That share-the-load mentality that led to four guys having goals in the double digits this season? That was apparent late in the game, when it felt like players were giving up good shots to get better ones — only they weren’t going in, or the defense was collapsing and Santa Rosa wasn’t getting shots off at all.

On a team full of gunslingers, it felt like nobody wanted to pull the trigger.

With a few days to let the game sink in, Kinahan said Tuesday that perhaps his team got ahead of itself. A No. 1 seed and prolific offense will do that for you.

“You have to take care of every game,” he said. “I think we got caught looking past this game a little bit.”

The Bear Cubs were looking forward to matching up with the likes of Mt. San Antonio College and Cerritos, the top two seeds from the south in the state Final Four this weekend. Instead, Fresno, the No. 2 seed, and Foothill will represent the north.

“It would have been cool — it would have been the big dogs in the final,” Kinahan said.

“It’s harsh,” he said. “Only one team gets to celebrate.”

The upside, if there is one, is that for much of the season, Santa Rosa started six freshmen, including goalkeeper Christian Hernandez as well as goal scorers Fontanelli, Soto and Sanchez. They lose a significant portion of their stellar defense in sophomore Big 8 Defender of the Year and Windsor grad Derek Neidlinger, as well as Terra Linda grad Jorge Aldana and Analy grad Saul Valencia.

And there might be more upside, the kind of thing that winning it all won’t or can’t give a team. Let’s call it the vengeance factor.

“We have really good guys coming back,” Kinahan said. “We are hoping for an unfinished-business mentality with these guys.”

In the meantime, it’s back to the drawing board. Or, in this case perhaps, the kitchen.

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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