Diana Nevarez bade a tearful farewell to her seniors Wednesday after Lathrop’s girls soccer team was knocked out of playoff contention by a 5-1 loss in its Western Athletic Conference finale against Mountain House.
Earlier in the night, Lathrop boys coach Alfredo Reynaga’s message was clear to the Spartans following their frustrating 2-1 loss to Mountain House: It’s not over yet.
This doubleheader at Bennie Gatto Field may have ended in disappointing double defeats, but the two programs —both brimming with young talent at the varsity and junior varsity levels — have reasons to be optimistic for the future.
The boys, despite the loss, are on their way to making their first Sac-Joaquin Section postseason appearance. Lathrop (7-3-3 WAC, 11-8-4 overall) has one more regular-season game Friday with Los Banos visiting but will need some unlikely results to go its way in order to leapfrog Mountain House (7-3-2, 11-4-2) and Grace Davis (8-3-1, 14-5-1) for the conference crown.
“They (Mountain House) still have a game left, too,” Reynaga said. “Grace Davis still two more games. Anything can happen.”
Montgomery Carey scored twice to power Mountain House past the Spartans. He’s the third-leading scorer in the SJS, according to stats submitted to MaxPreps.
With advantages in shot attempts, 19-12, and corner kicks, 8-1, Lathrop could not on any more of its chances following Reyli Villalpando’s goal in the second minute. He headed Alan Hernandez’s corner kick cross to the near post.
The Spartans had an opportunity to double the lead in the 28th minute after Mountain House right back Sebastian Ricablanca was whistled for a handball in the penalty box, but he was bailed out by goalkeeper Keagan Wright’s diving deflection of Ociel Mora’s penalty kick.
Carey’s equalizer came in the 37th minute, leaping above the crowded box to nod it to the net on Armin Mohammady’s free kick. The Mustangs took the lead in the 69th minute when Carey won a 50-50 ball on the right wing and beat a defender for a 1-on-1 breakaway.
While Carey was Mountain House’s player of the match on the attacking third, Wright deserves credit for his work on the other end with his nine saves.
“I thought we did well enough to be up in the first half,” Reynaga said. “That was the difference — execution. They were able to execute on their opportunities, and we couldn’t execute on the ones that we have been. That’s what it comes down to in games like this.
“It’s unfortunate, but we still have one more game to play and we’re looking forward to the next one.”
The postseason begins on Feb. 14, but Reynaga wants his team to finish out the WAC schedule strong Friday against a dangerous Los Banos side (5-5-3, 7-9-3) that it previously played to a scoreless tie.
“The kids respond well from losses, but we have to keep that mentality going forward because it’s only going to get tougher than this,” Reynaga said. “We’re going to keep plucking away and get ready for the playoffs. It’s exciting, it’s the first time for the program and everybody is pumped up for it.”
Lathrop’s girls team (7-4-3, 10-10-3) comes up short of its second playoff berth in program history, but it was still another promising campaign under third-year coach Diana Nevarez.
“I could not have asked for a better group of girls,” Nevarez said. “Coming in, from freshmen to seniors, showing up day in and day out. This season was crazy with storms, rescheduling, and they still showed up every day with a great attitude. They wanted it, and they wanted to build their legacy at Lathrop High and this program. We’re going up from here. They made one hell of an impact on me and this program.”
A win on Wednesday was no guarantee of advancing, however. The Spartans still would have needed bottom-table teams to beat Ceres or Mountain House (9-3-1, 10-5-1) in their final league games Friday.
Lathrop’s season finale was more competitive than the final tally shows. It was tied at 1-1 at halftime before Fuatai Mose pushed Mountain House ahead for good in the 46th minute, winning a 50-50 ball on a goalie punt from Ajah Smith (five saves) before sending it back for a goal from about 45 yards out.
The Spartans had several opportunities to tie it back up on counterattacks led by the attacking trio of Elizabeth Enriquez, Morgan Penko and Janessa Ward until the Mustangs put it away with three goals in the final six minutes.
Mountain House landed the first blow in the 12th minute on Jayden Reynolds’ long-distance direct kick. Lathrop freshman Janeese Romo knotted it in the 27th minute with a slow-rolling shot from the top of the penalty box.
Brooke Gale, Sydney Stephens and Zoe Patrizio were the scorers in Mountain House’s late barrage.
“We have a young team,” Nevarez said. “We are losing seven girls, but we have a great core to build around and it’s going to be great. We have a great JV team that is sitting in first. Jose (Avila) does a great job of developing them. It’s only going up from here.”
Junior varsity girls
Lathrop 3, Mountain House 1
At Mountain House, Zoe Ceja, Ariana Garcia-Lopez and Dahlia Ricaldi scored one each to help Lathrop (13-1, 16-4) cap off its first-place finish with a victory.