LATHROP — Drew Erwin is a natural defender, but during Lathrop High’s must-win Valley Oak League match with Weston Ranch the target was on him.
And with good reason.
Taking on more of an attacking role from the left wing, Erwin was in on both of the Spartans’ goals in a 2-1 victory on Tuesday.
Erwin drew three hard fouls that resulted in yellow cards issued to three different Weston Ranch players, and he was booked one of his own at the end of the first half.
As one of the fastest players on his team, Erwin’s role has expanded over the course of the season as a combination of injuries to key starters and the Spartans’ persistent offensive struggles have forced him to the front line.
“It’s better for us because we don’t have a wing player with his speed,” said senior forward Gilberto Duran, who was on the other end of the Erwin’s goal and assist. “We can just send through balls to him all game and he never gets tired.”
Erwin netted the first goal in the 18th minute. Duran drew the defense toward the middle of the goal area, freeing up Erwin near the left post for an open shot.
Erwin returned the favor for another go-ahead goal in the 64th minute. His well-time throw-in to the penalty box allowed Duran to beat two defenders to the ball, and he put it away with an easy attempt.
“I just try and look for somebody open in the 18-yard box, and he was there,” Erwin said.
Five minutes earlier, Weston Ranch’s Antobelly Guzman tied it with a booming free kick from about 40 yards out.
Lathrop fired 17 shots to Weston Ranch’s eight but was thwarted throughout by an offsides trap and its own missed opportunities.
It was a much-needed victory for Lathrop (3-2-6, 9-4-6 overall), which remains in a four-way race — also involving Oakdale, Sonora and East Union — for the Valley Oak League’s third and final Sac-Joaquin Section playoff spot. Oakdale leads Lathrop and Sonora by two points, while Manteca and Sierra are close to clinching the first two berths with just three games remaining.
“For all four of my years here we’ve always been on the bottom,” Duran said. “We’re competing now and we have a chance to make the playoffs for the first time.”
Weston Ranch (1-8-2, 3-12-2) has yet to advance to the postseason in its nine varsity seasons, but first-year co-head coach Julio Madrigal — a former standout as a player at the school — feels that the team is close.
“This is the probably the most talented team we’ve had at Weston Ranch, but they easily get their heads down and think, ‘Here we go again,’” Madrigal said. “I think mentally we have to get over that. Today we were outhustled a little bit and we got away from the system.”
After tying four of its first five league matches, Lathrop has a tough road ahead to make it to the playoffs. The Spartans play out the remainder of their schedule at home, but the next two are against Manteca and Sierra — the VOL’s No. 1 and 2 teams, respectively. Which means a return to defense is likely at store for Erwin, at least for the next two contests.
“Against teams like Sierra and Manteca we’re probably going to have to play him in the back,” Lathrop coach Lenny Lial said. “He’s a great defender, but we don’t have a whole lot of team speed. He’s one of a few guys on our team who can really stretch things out.”