Peter Zamora said earlier this season that he couldn’t wait to get his complete starting lineup on the field to see what it was capable of. He thought Thursday might be that night, until four year starter Cedric Rivas was unable to go due to injury. Then senior Miguel Flores was issued a red card midway through the first half and Desert Mirage High School was forced to play a man down for more than 60 minutes.
Once again, though, it didn’t matter. Desert Mirage found the back of the net in the first half and ended their regular season with a narrow 1-0 win over rival Coachella Valley High in a physical, intense game that extended the Rams’ win streak to 10 games heading into the Southern Section playoffs next week.
“Overall, I don’t think my boys had a great game, but we found a way to win,” said Zamora, the Desert Mirage head coach. “In Division 4, we’ll need to find a way to win because we’re going to see a lot of close games like this.”
The game was perhaps as emotionally charged as any in the Coachella Valley this season, with a red card and three yellows issued on the night. Perhaps more significant were the plays that did not draw fouls, and forced multiple players out the game with injuries. None appeared to be serious.
“This was almost like a CIF playoff atmosphere,” Coachella Valley head coach Adrian Barragan said. “So, we got that feeling a week early. Hopefully it helps us.”
Despite Zamora’s heated protest to the referee, Flores exited the game in the 31st minute following a foul. Less than a minute later, junior forward Alex Pimentel scored the game’s lone goal.
Pimentel, an All-CIF selection a year ago, split a pair of Coachella Valley defenders on a breakaway before firing a shot from 20 yards out that hung in the air between a two foot gap that separated the top of the goal and the outstretched arms of goalkeeper Jesus Cebreros. Pimentel was mobbed by his teammates, while opponents stood in shock.
The game was not over, though.
Later, in the second half, the Rams (20-4, 10-0 De Anza) had a chance to go up by a pair of goals but Cebreros made a miraculous diving save on a penalty kick attempted by Rams goalie Jesus Negrete, who was the only player who raised his hand when Zamora asked for a volunteer to take the shot.
Zamora and teammates playfully razzed Negrete after the game, though he was as responsible as anyone for the win. He had five saves in goal, and recorded his seventh shutout in 10 league games this season.
Two of his saves came in the final two minutes, when the Arabs were desperate for a goal. Aside from those two shots on goal, Coachella Valley also had a shot his the goalpost, and another hit the top of the goal.
“We had opportunities, the ball just didn’t go in,” Barragan said. “That happens sometimes.
“You can see the emotion on the faces of the kids. They played hard and left everything on the field. I asked them if they wanted to feel this way again, because it’s a one-game elimination from here.”
It’s possible these two teams could see each other again this season, in the Division 4 playoffs. The Rams are currently ranked No. 1 in the division, moving up from Division 6 where they finished 26-0 to complete the first perfect season in the history of Coachella Valley high school soccer. Coachella Valley (10-6-4, 7-3) should get in by finishing second place De Anza League.
The pairings will be released Tuesday at 9 a.m.
“I’m just thankful that the boys have put in the hard work, like last year’s team,” said Zamora, who is a win away from his 60th in three seasons. “Hopefully the pieces come back together over the next week.”
Though he will be without Flores for the first round game, Zamora is optimistic that Rivas, his four-year defensive starter will be ready to play. He recently held a tryout for players on the undefeated junior varsity team and elevated a few to the varsity squad as the team seeks consecutive CIF titles, starting next week.
Many of the players are different, but the goal is the same. And whether or not Zamora can finally get his complete starting lineup on the field, he’s hopeful this year’s group is up to the challenge of going for another ring.
“I’ve been extremely blessed again,” he said. “Like last season, I have a lot of talented players, and they’re good kids, too. And they’re buying into what I’m selling them.
“We’ve had a great journey so far, but I’m not ready for it to end yet.”