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Another historic turn for No.1 Cougars
WRHSSHS4 10-31-13
Weston Ranch overcame a 9-point deficit to Sierra in the VOL table to clinch the third and final playoff spot. - photo by Bulletin file photo

Francisco Cisneros was in the middle of his us-against-the-world speech Friday afternoon when Weston Ranch athletic director Pat King interrupted with a phone call.

“I was telling my kids that because we were the third-place team in the (Valley Oak League) we’re probably going to come in as the No. 7 or 8 seed,” said Cisneros, who is leading Weston Ranch’s boys team to in its first Sac-Joaquin Section postseason appearance. “I told them all the pressure is on the No. 1 seed and we have nothing to lose. Just as I was saying that …”

Ring, ring!

“(King) said, ‘Hey coach, you guys are ranked No. 1 in Division IV,” Cisneros continued. “I had to turn around and say, ‘Sorry guys. That was all talk.’”

The players were just as surprised as their coach, but he said that has only added to their excitement. It is just the latest twist to the Cougars’ historic season.

The new kids on the block top a bracket that includes tradition-rich programs that have been there, done that. Among them is No. 8 Natomas (7-4-5), a three-time SJS Division III champion (2007, 2010-11) and Weston Ranch’s first-round opponent Thursday night starting at 6.

“To be the No. 1, that’s what you want,” Cisneros said. “You want home-field advantage in the playoffs. We don’t have to travel (until the finals), and we get to play in front of our fans and our community. We’re excited about that.”

The Cougars (15-5-4) greet a battle-tested Natomas team that finished third with a 4-1-5 record in the competitive Tri-County Conference. The Nighthawks of Sacramento are led by sophomore Baltazar Silva (6 goals, 8 assists) and Carlos Cuevas (6 goals), two strikers with size.

Otherwise, there isn’t much Cisneros has on Natomas. He believes his team has the same advantage. He also believes in his team, period. All season, he said, his players have found ways to scrap their way out of a corner.

At the midway point of the VOL season, Weston Ranch had just suffered a loss to Sierra and trailed the Timberwolves by nine points for the third and final playoff berth. The Cougars, young as they are, would not be denied.

They won five straight and tied the last two to sneak into the playoffs. And their final three opponents were no pushovers: SJS Division III qualifiers Manteca and Oakdale, seeded No. 5 and 2, and 2012 co-champion Sierra. Weston Ranch traded flurries with Sierra last Thursday en route to a 4-4 draw in the VOL finale that punched its postseason ticket.

The clincher came at a cost, however, as the team lost its hottest scorer and a top defender to red card ejections. Both will have to sit out Thursday.

“We will need some kids to step up, but we’ve been through a lot as a team,” Cisneros said. “They’ve fought through adversity all season. I hope that the battles we had in league prepared us for this bigger stage that is new to us and our program.”

Get past Natomas on Thursday, and the Cougars host a league champion on Nov. 13. The Natomas-Weston Ranch winner gets Tri-County Conference champ Woodland or Pioneer Valley League co-titlist Center. Placer (12-5-3), which owns the other half of the PVL crown, is the No. 2 seed, and Liberty Ranch (11-8-2) is No. 3.