Panthers stumble in regional championship

Porterville’s Justin Gill dribbles the ball against Foothill this past Saturday night. The Panthers lost, 5-0, to Foothill in the Division III CIF SoCal Championship game.(Kason Clark)

Porterville boys soccer suffers a 5-0 loss to Foothill in the Division III CIF SoCal Championship match; Panthers end the season with a 27-4-3 record and the Division III Central Section title

BAKERSFIELD – Over the past week, Porterville boys soccer went on a run through the Division III CIF SoCal Championships. The No. 6 seed Panthers won two straight games on the road to reach the regional title game, where they faced Foothill on the road this past Saturday.

But the run came to an unceremonious end as the Panthers lost, 5-0, to the Foothill Trojans on March 2. Porterville head coach Eddie Gutierrez believes his team played well to start the night, but their inability to break through for a score doomed the Panthers in the end.

“It was just one of those nights where we just couldn’t hit the goal. Our shots were going over, going wide and we couldn’t really test the keeper,” Gutierrez said. “We just couldn’t find that spark. It was just  a bad night to not be able to score.”

The loss ended the season for the Panthers as they finished the year with an overall record of 27-4-3. Porterville qualified for regionals after winning the Division III Central Section championship. The Panthers then went on a run through regionals to reach the championship game.

Earlier in the week, Porterville opened the tournament with a 3-2 win over Amino Leadership down in Inglewood. Then in the semifinals, Porterville won, 3-2, against Foothill (Santa Ana) in another road game down south. As the Panthers overcame deficits, long road trips and an injury to key player Rafael Gonzalez, Gutierrez was proud of his team for pushing through to reach the championship match.

“We had two long trips with just one day of rest in between and in both games, we were losing and we came back,” Gutierrez said. “It’s not easy to go down there on long trips, then get home late and have to go to school the next day. They battled to get here.”

But that run came to an end in Bakersfield. After Porterville played sound defense through most of the first half, Josue Chavez broke through for a goal to give Foothill the lead with 15 minutes left in the half. Just a few minutes later, Jovanny Salazar scored on a free kick to give the Trojans a 2-0 lead heading into halftime.

As the second half began, the Panthers were looking for a goal to get back into the contest. Instead, Salazar came through with another goal for the Trojans. A couple minutes later, Chavez scored to make it a 4-0 game with 34 minutes left in the second half. As the Trojans took firm control, Gutierrez believes the Panthers were more focused on scoring themselves while Foothill broke through their defense. 

“We were pushing a little bit too hard to get that first goal and there was a lack of communication,” Gutierrez said. “Hats off to Foothill. They played a great game. All their players were out there trying their hardest and they played well. They deserved it.”

Through the rest of the contest, the Trojans shut out the Panthers. Then for good measure, Daniel Llamas scored to give the Trojans a 5-0 lead with under 10 minutes left. When the clock ran out, the Trojans began to celebrate their regional championship on their home field.

Meanwhile, the Panthers finish the year as runner-ups for the SoCal regional championship. While they wished they could have gotten one more win, the Panthers had already accomplished their goal of winning a Central Valley title this season. As he looks back on the year, Gutierrez is proud of his team for bringing home that title and going on a run deep into regionals.

“Since day one, the boys were working hard and they were serious about it,” Gutierrez said. “They played hard and they had good camaraderie. They’re just a great group of kids.”

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