Earlier this month, after his team didn't score in a one-goal loss to an improved-looking Templeton team that didn't make the playoffs out of the Los Padres League last season, Pioneer Valley boys soccer coach Alan Brafman said his team needed to work on finishing.
Pioneer Valley finished enough possessions with goals to edge crosstown rival Santa Maria 3-2 in a spirited non-league game before a sizeable crowd at Pioneer Valley Friday night. The stands appeared to be about two-thirds full.
Rigo Maldonado broke past the Saints' defense twice in the second half and scored, and that was the difference. Pioneer Valley rallied from a 2-1 halftime deficit to win.
"I just looked, saw (where the defenders were) and ran around them," said Maldonado, a senior.
Pioneer Valley, which made it to the playoffs out of the PAC 8 League last year, moved to 4-1-0. Santa Maria, which won the Los Padres League championship and made it to the CIF Southern California Division 3 Regional Final last season, is 4-2-1.
Edgar Zacarias, a standout kicker for the Pioneer Valley football team, flicked the ball to Maldonado after corralling a David Mora free kick and scored the tying goal in the second half.
Edgar Diaz connected with Maldonado on a long crossing pass, and Maldonado scored the winning goal in the 19th minute after intermission.
"I saw (Maldonado) break free, and I decided to make a cross," said Diaz.
"I gave him a perfect pass."
The Panthers scored first. Josue Chavez broke past Santa Maria's back line defense and scored in the 12th minute.
After a call against Pioneer Valley goalkeeper Jorge Mendez that drew Brafman's ire, Brian Gomez tied the game for the Saints on a penalty kick in the 26th minute.
Santa Maria started getting deep into Pioneer Valley territory with drives down its own sideline and after one such drive, Jose Orozco put the Saints ahead with a tally in the 37th minute of the first half.
Mendez was active in both halfs. Not only did he make some tough saves, he twice leaped into the air to foil promising Santa Maria crossing passes in the Pioneer Valley penalty box.
"It was just anticipation," Mendez said with a shrug about his big plays.
"You have to know where the ball is going."
After the Panthers took the lead for the last time, Mendez jumped high to snag a Santa Maria crossing pass, made one diving save and then made another on a blast from the Pioneer Valley 20.
The Panthers were able more often than not in the second half to cut off the Saints' drives down the sideline that had worked so well in the first.
Orozco helped his team stay in it with his work on defense deep in Saints' territory in the second half, but Mora helped the Pirates keep the Saints scoreless during that time.
"I'm not going to say we were the better team," said Brafman.
"There were times when the game should have gone to me and it went to (Santa Maria coach Eduardo Cuna). One time, we hit the far post four times."
Brafman said, "In games like this it's all about heart, and I thought we had more heart than Santa Maria did."
The Panthers will host San Marcos at 5:30 p.m. Monday in a non-league game. The Saints will open Los Padres League play at 3 p.m. Tuesday at Cabrillo.
San Luis Obispo Holiday Tournament
Clarissa Simonson scored 10 points and snared seven rebounds as Nipomo (2-1) beat Pioneer Valley (1-5) in a tournament game at San Luis Obispo High School.
Abbey Gutierrez scored seven points and snared six rebounds for the Titans. Olivia Labastida scored seven points and had four assists, and Maddie Witcher amassed six points and five assists.
The Titans will play Paso Robles at 9 a.m. at San Luis Obispo in another tournament game.
Taro Kobara Optimist Tournament (Thursday night)
Gage Gomez poured in 38 points as host Arroyo Grande defeated Bakersfield Frontier 78-38 in a first-round game at Arroyo Grande's James Gymnasium.
Bryan Smith and Caleb Whalen added 13 points apiece for the Eagles. Logan Siemens added eight.