When the final whistle sounded, confirming South Pasadena’s 4-2 win over Rancho Mirage in their CIF-SS Division 6 quarterfinal boys’ soccer game, the Rattlers knew they’d truly left everything on the pitch.
The Rattlers used the wind and a quickness advantage to edge in front 2-1 at halftime. But they also lost their captain and talisman, junior forward Luis “Messi” Gastelum, to an injury just two minutes before the end of the first half when it appeared he was kicked hard by a Tiger defender but no foul was given.
Gastelum remained on the grass for nearly five minutes before he was hauled off by golf cart, and he spent the rest of the match on the Rattlers’ bench.
Rancho Mirage suffered another injury loss less than five minutes into the second half when towering sophomore defender Daniel Whelan went down with a twisted ankle and did not return. While the Rattlers’ substitutes battled, the two key injuries left the Rattlers shorthanded against the division’s top seeded team, and the difference in quality eventually showed.
By the end of the match, the Rattlers had four key starters nursing injuries.
“It was back and forth, I’ll tell you. It could have gone either way,” said Rancho Mirage coach Hugo Rojas, whose team finishes its inaugural varsity season with an 11-9-1 mark. “But to get here and do what we’ve done with no seniors … we’re super proud of these guys.”
The Rattlers got off to a dream start, looking quicker from the opening seconds, and they were rewarded with a 1-0 lead in short order. In the fifth minute, with the first corner of the match, Gastelum’s outswinging corner was deftly flicked into the back of the Tigers’ goal by sophomore forward Nathan Ocampo, giving South Pasadena’s senior goalkeeper Sam Hoadley-Brill no chance.
The Tigers (12-3-5) equalized in the 22nd minute when they capitalized on a 3-on-2 counter attack to level the game at 1-1. Senior midfielder Ramon Gutierrez struck the initial shot into the hands of Rattlers junior goalkeeper Josue Velasquez, but he spilled the ball into the path of junior striker Oskar Hernandez, who smashed his shot into the back of the net.
The Rattlers used another set piece and the strong, quartering wind at their backs to take a 2-1 lead. Junior midfielder Andrew Mercado hit a long free kick from inside the Rattlers’ half of the pitch, and the kick was helped on its way by the head of Ocampo at the top of the penalty area, a deflection Hoadley-Brill could only watch sail by and into the back of the net in the 38th minute.
But less than two minutes later, the match changed when Gastelum went down, and was followed by Whelan just minutes into the second half. Without them, Rancho Mirage spent a majority of the second half chasing the ball and resisting pressure.
The pressure paid off sooner than later as South Pasadena junior forward James Tulin equalized from Gutierrez’s corner, leveling the match at 2-2 in the 47th minute by turning the corner through a forest of socks and inside the far post.
The Tigers got the decisive goal with just nine minutes left and the Rattlers running out of gas and healthy bodies. Junior center back James Anderson started the move for the Tigers with a surging run though the center of the park before getting the ball to senior wing and captain Jordan Jackmon 10 yards out. Jackmon had been silenced and frustrated to that point, but his frustration ended when he turned and zipped his shot into the lower left hand corner past Velasquez for 3-2 lead.
Rancho Mirage made a predicable push for the equalizer, and got a great chance in the 77th minute. Junior midfielder Moises Hernandez, in for Gastelum, beat two defenders in the penalty area and scooped a cross to sophomore midfielder Gustavo Medina who was alone in the box. But Medina’s shot rolled into the gloves of Hoadley-Brill.
The Tigers then added insurance in the 10th minute of added time, when Gutierrez again located Jackmon in the area, and he punished the fatigued Rattlers with a fourth goal that cosmetically altered the final score.
Man of the match
Ramon Gutierrez: Gutierrez stood out more for South Pasadena the longer the game went on, and was the primary reason Rancho Mirage could not maintain substantial periods of possession, particularly in the second half. He also provided the game’s decisive services, setting up three of the Tigers’ four goals on the night.
Rodolfo Barcenas: The Rancho Mirage freshman defender’s effort exemplified the Rattlers’ commitment. He finished the match agonizing over a lower leg injury which he played through for a majority of the second half, stepping forward to lead the back line after teammate and co-defender Daniel Whelan was forced off through injury. He was a primary reason Tigers’ senior wing Jordan Jackmon and senior forward Sam Annuakpado were kept under wraps for much of the match.
Over 12 minutes of stoppage time was added to the second half, with South Pasadena adding an insurance goal in the 10th. … Rancho Mirage coach Hugo Rojas praised his players after the match, telling them they made a great run and to look forward to next year, when the team will have seniors for the first time … South Pasadena coach Juan Zurita instructed his players to go to the main grandstand and applaud the estimated 200 Rancho Mirage supporters after shaking hands with the Rattlers. They obliged, and were in turn applauded by the home fans.