On a chilly night in Santa Maria, the San Luis Obispo Tigers got hot at the right time to defeat the Pioneer Valley Panthers 3-2 in overtime in a PAC 8 League boys soccer match at Pioneer Valley High school Wednesday night.
When SLO’S Elvis Mensah completed a breakaway with a rocket shot past Pioneer Valley goal keeper Jorge Mendez just inside the two-minute mark of the second overtime, it set off a wild celebration on the San Luis Obispo sideline.
“It was a really exciting game but it shouldn’t have come down to that,” said San Luis Obispo head coach James Boscaro. “We played really well in the first half but two blunders led to two Pioneer Valley goals. You also have to give credit to Pioneer Valley. This game was a real challenge. They have an excellent team.”
Although the Panthers (9-4-1, 2-2 PAC 8) pressed the attack over the final two minutes, the Tigers held them off to take sole possession of second place in the PAC 8.
“We’ve been playing shorthanded. We’ve still got some players who aren’t back from vacation,” said Pioneer Valley head coach Alan Brafman. “But we’ve still got some good players. I think we just ran out of gas at the end.”
San Luis Obispo (11-1, 3-1) came back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game late in the second half before going on to the OT win.
The Tigers put the pressure on the Panthers from the game’s beginning and most of the game was played on Pioneer Valley’s side of the field.
But it was the Panthers who struck first, getting two goals in the final three minutes of the first half.
Pioneer Valley’s Rigoberto Maldonado got the Panthers on the scoreboard on a free kick that was out of SLO goal keeper Luis Albarran’s reach with 2:50 left in the half.
With one minute left in the first half, PV’s Mendez launched a long pass that Oscar Ramirez collared about five yards out. Ramirez then kicked a soft floater over Albarran’s head to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead at the break.
“We challenged our kids at halftime,” said Boscaro. “I knew if we could get the first goal of the second half, the second goal would come."
The Tigers intensified the pressure in the second half.
It finally paid off when Eddie Smith worked the ball to Brendan Rattigan who kicked the ball over Mendez’s head to cut the Panthers’ lead to 2-1 with 24:40 left in the game.
That brought the Tigers’ crowd and bench to life.
The teams battled back and forth down the stretch with the Panthers getting three good shots on goal but each time, Albarran batted them away.
Then the Tigers really turned up the heat.
Rattigan got off another shot with three minutes left in the game that Mendez handled.
SLO got off three more shots in the next minute that all sailed over the net.
But Tristan Torres’ shot from 15-yards out just as extra time began that hit the lower left corner of the net for a 2-2 tie.
The teams went back and forth through a scoreless first 10-minute overtime and through most of the second 10-minute OT period before Kellen Berry started a breakaway and found an open Mensah for the game-winner.
“Whenever Kellen is on the ball, he’s dangerous,” said Boscaro. “And we had more substitutes available than they did. I sat Elvis for a good part of the second half and the entire first overtime. So when he came on in the second OT, he had fresh legs.”
It didn’t help the Panthers when they lost six players to injury over the course of the game.
Most were fairly minor dings, but Jose Fuentes sprained his ankle midway through the first half and didn’t return.
“We’ve got a young team. The injuries hurt us and we were kind of shorthanded to begin with,” said Brafman. “But the kids gave everything, they gave 100 percent.”
Pioneer Valley is on the road for its next game Friday against Mission Prep. The game will be played at San Luis Obispo High.
San Luis Obispo is also on the road Friday. The Tigers play at Arroyo Grande.