WATSONVILLE — Faster than a speeding bullet, would be an apt description of Alexis Valenzuela’s wind-aided scoring strike during Friday night’s Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan division meeting between Watsonville and Soledad.
“It’s like I blinked or something,” the Watsonville junior midfielder said. “I didn’t even see it go in.”
The Wildcatz aren't more powerful than a locomotive, and they surely cannot leap tall buildings in a single bound. But there’s no doubt that they have been super since the start of league play.
Eric Vasquez scored a beautiful dribbling goal through three Soledad defenders, and Valenzuela nearly broke the sound barrier with his score, as Watsonville won its fourth straight PCAL-G contest, 2-1, at Emmett M. Geiser Field.
The win pushed Watsonville’s unbeaten streak to 10 games, improved the black and gold to 12-1-3 overall and pushed the team into first place in the star-studded league.
The Wildcatz (5-0-1) now hold a one-point lead over the Aztecs (11-2-2, 5-2), and a two-point advantage over rival Alisal (8-6-3, 4-2-2).
The streaking Wildcatz will travel to Salinas on Tuesday for the second showdown of the season with the Trojans, whom have served as their kryptonite recently by thrice beating Watsonville for a league title.
No game in the PCAL-G is unimportant or easy — last-place San Benito (5-7-5, 0-6-1) has pushed Watsonville, Soledad and Alisal to their limits in one-goal heartbreakers — but Tuesday’s meeting is sure to carry a bit more weight than almost any other tilt, especially with a scoreless tie from two weeks ago as prologue.
“It’s a big game, always a rivalry game,” Valenzuela said. “We’ve got to go out there, and execute like we did today.”
Friday was not nearly as close as the final score indicated, as Watsonville edged Soledad 8-4 in both shots on goal and corner kicks, but the Aztecs did make the Wildcatz sweat over the final five minutes.
Jesus Rodriguez’s score in the 79th created some drama, and upset some of Watsonville's supporters, who jeered the officials with whistles calling for the final horn as they braved the whipping wind and steady drizzle under umbrellas and canopies.
“They kept pressing,” said Watsonville coach Roland Hedgpeth. “They really put the pressure on us.”
But Watsonville held.
Valenzuela’s blistering goal in the 63rd proved to be the difference.
It also drew several “oohs” and “ahhs” — some calls of “golazo” and “bombazo,” too.
“It was beautiful,” Vasquez said.
Vasquez’s score nine minutes earlier was nothing to bat an eye at either. The diminutive junior dribbled left carrying a pair of defenders at his right hip before sending the ball wide right past the Soledad keeper and off the right post and in.
The scores were two of several highlights by the Wildcatz, who earlier this week cracked the top 15 in MaxPreps’ state rankings and also made their debut in Top Drawer Soccer’s Winter FAB 50 national rankings. The Wildcatz are ranked No. 15 in California by MaxPreps — believed to be the highest ranking the team has achieved since 2014-15 — and were 45th in the country when Top Drawer Soccer released its rankings on Monday.
At the beginning of the season Hedgpeth, who is in his 49th season with the 11-time CCS champions, was concerned with his team’s youth and inexperience — the team had only three senior starters. Sixteen games into the season, he was more than happy to say this year’s group has exceeded his expectations.
“I think we’re only going to get better,” Hedgpeth said.
Editor's Note: This article will publish in the Feb. 8 edition of the Register-Pajaronian.