SHINGLE SPRINGS — Soccer’s infamous, unwritten two-minute rule — never give up a goal to open either half or right after you score — reared its ugly head in Tuesday’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division II first-round playoff match between host Ponderosa and Whitney.
It was the latter, roughly 20 seconds after the Bruins had pulled to within a goal, that proved decisive as the Wildcats struck for the eventual game-winner of their 3-2 win, dumping Ponderosa out of the postseason.
Trailing 2-0 and under a sense of urgency, Bruin Trevor Swartz drew a foul near the sideline. Swartz promptly nailed a high, left-footed free kick into the far corner to get Ponderosa back in it.
Seconds later, Whitney attacked the Bruin defense and capitalized on a bounce that cleared Ponderosa keeper Joe Cornelius who had challenged off his line. All the Bruins could do was watch the empty netter pad the Wildcats’ lead.
Though Ponderosa trimmed the deficit to a goal, its frantic late push for the equalizer ran out of time.
“I feel bad for the seniors who’ve taken this team so far — from not winning a league game last year to taking second and making the Division I playoffs for the first time. We got what we wanted, we got a home game but we couldn’t prolong the season,” Bruin coach Greg Spangler said.
Whitney took it to Ponderosa from the opening whistle with runs on goal, putting the Bruins on their heels. The Wildcats’ height, especially on the defensive end, created problems and they never lost sight of Swartz, Ponderosa’s leading scorer during the season.
“They surprised us. Looking at their roster, at their record, it wasn’t clear they’d be that good but I thought they played fantastic in the first half controlling the ball,” Spangler said.
Tuesday’s play in the win-or-else format was uptempo from the start. Cornelius batted several early attempts out of harm’s way as his defensive line of Josh Arevalo, Matthew Culver, Curtis Goldsmith and Jack Carpenter was on full alert.
Whitney got on the board late in the first half when Cornelius couldn’t corral a short-hop and a Wildcat followed in the loose possession.
Ponderosa gave Whitney its second goal early into the second half. Defending a corner kick, the ball deflected off two Bruins and in for the 2-nil advantage.
After the visitors answered Swartz’ score, Josh Holbrook won a corner he delivered to the box. Rattling around, the ball found Jarrad Saint who rammed home the shot to make it 3-2.
“I was in front of the net, hit it hard and it went through a couple of legs and in,” Saint said. “We didn’t play as well as we could — came out a little slow, they got the lead and we played catch-up the whole way. It was a great season but it’s frustrating the playoffs ended early.”
With time dwindling, Ponderosa increased its pressure hoping for overtime. Its last best attempt came when Matthew Gould found Spencer DeVetter for a blast from the top that sailed wide.
“The boys had a great season,” Spangler said. “We had a huge turnaround and have nothing to hang our heads about. We’ll come back strong next year.”
The Bruins finished with an 11-4 record.