Benefield: Maria Carrillo goalie saves victory in face of Piner's onslaught

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This one was a game of two halves and the second half has a name: Edgar Guerra.

Maria Carrillo’s junior goalkeeper faced down the barrage that the Piner High Prospectors, down 2-0 at halftime Tuesday, brought — and withstood it. Piner launched attack after attack in the final 40 minutes but were only able to slip one by — and with less than four minutes to play, it was too little, too late. The Pumas won 2-1 on their home field to move into first place in the tight North Bay League-Redwood Division boys soccer title race.

“Second half was pretty busy,” Guerra said. “Second half they were coming at us hard. I don’t know what the coach said over there, but they hyped them up and it was good fight ... but I got a couple good two, three saves.”

It seems that Guerra was so busy, he couldn’t count. He had well more than two or three good saves. His imposing physical presence and athletic ability in the back thwarted Piner time and again.

The plan, according to Pumas coach Trevor Brady, was to invite the Prospectors in, then shut them down. The Prospectors are too fast to allow them to spread out and play in wide-open spaces, so the Pumas decided to let them advance into their final third of the field, then simply crowd them out of any kind of comfortable rhythm.

“They are a very talented team, played physical, so I think if we tried to match them man-to-man pressure, we are probably not going to be as strong,” Brady said. “The game plan worked and we took care of our business and made some chances, so we are very pleased with that.”

The win moves the Pumas to 9-2-2 overall and 4-1 in league. Piner falls to 7-2-3 and 3-1-2 in league.

The Pumas did all of their damage in the first half. Both goals came off of corner kicks and both came off of the services of the aptly named senior, Rohan Crossland.

“He definitely had some great services tonight,” Brady said.

The first strike was a Crossland corner that senior Matthew Wojick headed home with nine minutes to play in the first half. Seven minutes later, it was Crossland again sending a ball into the box. This time it was senior James Roh who nailed a right footer to put the Pumas up 2-0.

For most teams, a 2-0 deficit at halftime, especially when the second goal comes mere seconds before the whistle ends the half, can suck the life out of a squad. But this Piner team can score and they can score in bunches.

The Prospectors have netted 41 goals in just 11 games — that’s a hefty average. So just 12 seconds into the second half, when Piner’s Sergio Villagomez missed with a scorcher that beat a diving Guerra to his right but went just wide of the post, it seemed like the Prospectors had a different energy than they showed in the first half. They did, but the Pumas withstood wave after wave of Piner offense.

“He’s a very talented keeper. We needed to draw him off his line more. We took too many direct shots on him,” Piner coach Sean Sutherland said. “They gotta finish. Put the ball in the net.”

Piner dug its own hole in the first 40 minutes of the game.

“In the first half we came out apprehensive and weren’t attacking the way we should have,” Sutherland said.

That was not the case in the second half. Piner’s attack was in full flight, but the Pumas, who loaded the back with green jerseys, were wily enough to keep the Prospectors from getting the shots they wanted. It was a touch too many on some, a missed pass on others, or Guerra simply denying them. There were so many bodies in the Pumas’ defensive third of the field that it was tough to navigate space.

That was the idea, Brady said.

“Kaito Maehara … played great on (Alexander Climacho, who scored Piner’s lone goal), a very fast player,” he said. “He did a great job on him … making sure that he didn’t have much run of play and kind of shut him down.

“Adrian (Valencia) on the other end played very solid for us, just kind of took care of business, making sure that nothing was easy for them. It’s kind of what we anticipated; Wojick and Alejandro (De La Cruz) played very strong in the back too.”

Guerra said the box was so congested with humanity, he had trouble directing traffic.

“Coach Brady put five, six players in the back and parked the bus and it was pretty hard directing because there was players coming at me, I couldn’t concentrate on my own players,” he said.

After the game, both coaches sought to give their teams a positive message.

Sutherland told his kids he’d rather take a loss in January then three weeks from now as playoffs approach. He also told his team the game needs to be a rallying point and how they respond will be crucial to their season’s success.

MaxPreps has Piner as the second-best Division 3 team in the North Coast Section, behind Terra Linda High in San Rafael. If the Prospectors want to make good on that, they will have to figure out how to unlock a game plan like the Pumas executed Tuesday night.

Over on the Pumas’ sideline, Brady had a similar message to his kids: How you respond to this game will be key. While the Prospectors have some figuring to do and can’t get down, the Pumas — ranked 10th among Division 2 schools in the section by MaxPreps — now sit atop a very tight league title race and suddenly have become the team everyone else will be gunning for.

So, like Piner, how they respond to this game will be key to their success.

“The great thing about our league is you gotta show up every single game, which is exciting,” Brady said. “Certainly we are happy with the result. We know that going forward that no wins are given to us, so we kind of got a target on our back, but we’ll take it.”

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