LATHROP — Lathrop had the edge in possession throughout but was caught on its heels a few too many times in its Valley Oak League opener against Sierra at Bennie Gatto Field.
The visiting Timberwolves did not attempt a shot in the second half until the 59th minute, when Kevin Mendiola beat two defenders after a foul for the deciding goal in a 3-2 victory.
“I was just waiting for that ball to come to me, and once it did I shot it with my left foot and hoped it would find the back of the net,” Mendiola said. “Thankfully it did.”
Lathrop (0-1-1, 3-4-1 overall) was initially awarded possession on the foul before an official corrected the ruling. By that point, the Spartans were streaking toward the other goal, and Sierra’s Tristan Gonzalez took advantage on the free kick as opposing defenders were scrambling into position. Mendiola controlled the pass near the top of the penalty box and went to work from there.
“There was some confusion there, but I don’t want to put the blame on the ref,” Lathrop coach Alfredo Reynaga said. “We should have been prepared for that regardless of which way it went. Sierra is a good team, so hats off to them.”
Despite the disappointing result, it was still a good showing for a squad seeking its first Sac-Joaquin Section postseason appearance. The Spartans are 1-11-1 all-time against Sierra, which reached the SJS Division IV final a year ago, and had chances to come away with the three points thanks to their midfield play.
Lathrop still managed to control possession in the final 10 minutes of the match when it played a man down. Lathrop forward Luis Angel Vargas was sent off the field with a red card for arguing with a referee.
“We knew coming into the game we could control the ball with anybody, we just made a lot of mistakes and shot ourselves in the foot,” Reynaga said.
Despite winning the possession battle, Lathrop was the team chasing leads. Alex Mata put Sierra on the board in the fourth minute following a corner kick, and the Timberwolves took a 2-1 advantage into halftime thanks to Gonzalez’s breakaway goal set up by Miguel Villasenor’s counter-attacking run.
Vargas tallied Lathrop’s first goal in the 10th minute and had two more good looks toward the end of the half. His long-range direct kick in the 26th minute sailed just wide of the upper-left 90, and moments later he had a one-on-one attempt deflected away by Sierra keeper Luis Acosta.
The Spartans tied it up again 10 minutes into the second half. Victor Enriquez mounted a dazzling run down the left flank and delivered it to the opposite post for Ronaldo Macias’ easy one-touch score.
Sierra (1-0-0, 5-3-1) was outshot 9-4 in the second half and could only get one of those attempts on frame. Coach Joe Pires expects his team to play better moving forward as it implements a new system.
“They did control the center of the field,” Pires said. “A lot of it was we were losing too many easy balls and fighting to get it back, so we never got into a rhythm. It’s a whole new style of play for us with a new coaching staff. We’re playing more with ball possession and not the long ball like we used to play. Guys are playing some new positions and trying to learn the system, but for the most part it’s coming together.”
Sierra next hosts Kimball on Wednesday, while Lathrop welcomes rival Weston Ranch.
“I emphasized to the kids that one game is not going to dictate the season,” Reynaga said. “If we come out and fall flat like we have in the past then we have something to worry about. If we come out and fight we’ll know more about what we can do this season.
“We lost this game tonight but we battled. We had opportunities to tie or even win the game. We’ll fix the mistakes and move forward. Hopefully it comes together in our next game against Weston Ranch.”
Sierra 5, Lathrop 0
Adib Guedoir registered two goals and assisted two others in the blowout win for Sierra.
Manny Magana added a goal and an assist, while Andrew Banegas and Mateo Garcia Moran scored one each. Kevin Hernandez and Matthew Rico each contributed an assist.