SALINAS — The season is far from over, but Watsonville High will already have to rally the troops to get back into the league title hunt.
Alisal High sent a big message to the rest of the Monterey Bay League Gabilan division on Tuesday night with a dominant 4-0 win over Watsonville in each teams’ league opener.
After watching the Trojans (5-0-2, 1-0) cruise to a perfect 12-0 league record and a second straight MBL-G crown last season, Watsonville (6-3, 0-1) had hoped to hand Alisal its first league loss since the 2014-15 season. But following a solid first half in which the Wildcatz created four scoring opportunities, the Trojans’ defense tightened and their offense took advantage of every small crease in Watsonville’s shell.
Alisal, ranked No. 23 in the nation by MaxPreps.com, turned the back-and-forth rivalry match into a blowout with three goals — each flashier than the previous — in the second half.
Senior Raul Gonzalez shook off a defender to make it 2-0 in the 56th; senior Jesus Ochoa notched his second goal of the night in the 66th from 20 yards away; and junior Julien Peguero put an exclamation mark on the victory in the 73rd with a laser from deep outside the penalty box.
“We wanted to stay compact and not let them go through us — force them to go around us,” said Alisal head coach Mark Cisneros. “We wanted to make them work for everything and get the ball back A.S.A.P. I think the boys did that.”
And Watsonville had no real answer after the intermission.
With Alisal clogging the middle of the field and suppressing the Wildcatz's touch-touch style of play, they had to rely on the long ball and counterattacks.
The strategy worked in the first half, but Alisal’s constant offensive pressure and stingy defense over the final 40 minutes thoroughly frustrated and wore down Watsonville.
“We played fairly well in the first half and then we just didn’t challenge them three times in the second,” said Watsonville head coach Roland Hedgpeth. “I know we can come back. We had a few problems today but it’s correctable.”
Watsonville was the aggressor early on.
Senior forward Alex Gonzalez scooted past an Alisal defender on a counterattack during the seventh minute and found senior midfielder Erik Herrera. Herrera had a good look at goal from just inside the penalty box but his shot was about a foot too high.
Gonzalez again found Herrera just a few feet from the goal in the 19th minute but the Wildcatz again could not find pay dirt.
By that time, Watsonville was already trailing 1-0 on Ochoa’s first score from point-blank range.
Watsonville’s next two chances came off the foot of junior Edgar Robledo on a pair of free kicks. Both were close but neither found the back of the net, allowing Alisal to escape the first half with the one-goal lead.
The first 40 minutes had all the markings of a vintage match between rivals whom have taken turns winning the MBL-G title over the last three years — Watsonville won in 2014-15 and finished runner-up each of the last two seasons. But Alisal owned the final 40.
“They’re always a talented group individually but I think we can break them down as a team,” Cisneros said.
Watsonville will try to get back on track on Thursday at Alvarez High at 5:45 p.m.
“They know that if we play the right way we can win,” Hedgpeth said. “We know that. We didn’t expect this. [Alisal] is a very good team but we can do it.”