By Jeremy Balan
The Bay Counties League Central boys soccer championship matchup is a surprise to no one, but the league’s top two teams had entirely different experiences in the semifinals on Tuesday at the Crocker Amazon Soccer Fields.
Top-seeded Gateway High School cruised to a 5-2 win over Bay, while second-seeded International got a scare against Leadership, holding the Griffins off in a 2-0 win.
The two teams will meet in the BCL Central title game for the third consecutive year Thursday night at Kezar Stadium.
Early on, it was Gateway (10-5-2) that was on its heels against the fourth-seeded Breakers (3-7-5), when Bay senior Zev Newman opened the game’s scoring with a goal in the fifth minute.
The Gators responded quickly, however, when senior Fauris Franco found Kevin Chetaitis in front of the net with a crossing pass in the 11th minute. Chetaitis rocketed a shot off the cross bar and into the net to even the score. Four minutes later, Franco scored a goal of his own to give Gateway a lead it would not relinquish.
“I always have confidence in our attack, and a lot of it is because of our ball control,” said Gateway head coach Joe Killmaier. “We rely on that possession and creating opportunities.”
The Gators would add goals from Ricardo Mendoza, Paul Bustamonte and Olfis Argueta to put the game out of reach, while on an adjacent field, International (16-3-2) was getting all it could ask for from Leadership (5-7-4).
The Jaguars scored first in the 24th minute on a goal from standout senior forward Kai Leshne, but the rest of the game was far from comfortable.
The score remained the same deep into the second half, as the International defense limited the Griffins to only long-distance shots until Leadership junior Vladimir Tirado broke behind the International back line in the 72nd minute.
Tirado was all alone with International goalkeeper Lucas Harrell and rifled a shot from 15 yards out, but Harrell came up with a huge save to keep the Griffins scoreless.
“[Tirado] is their best player, so that was the least convenient situation for us,” said International head coach Carlos Bover. “Luckily, he made that save.”
Six minutes later, Leshne struck again, this time on an assist from junior Jose Garduno, to put the game away.
“We’ve been very lucky to have [Leshne] this year,” Bover said. “He’s been in top shape and has just been great for us.”
Still, Bover was not satisfied with Jaguars’ play against a team they outscored 9-1 in two regular-season meetings.
“This game could have gone either way,” Bover said. “We decided to keep it close and we suffered. This is a game we need to take a look at and improve on.”
What has become one of the biggest soccer rivalries in The City in recent years will take a hit next season, when International moves to the Bay Counties League West, but the Jaguars will look to spoil Gateway’s undefeated league season in their final year. Last year, it was Gateway that ended International’s undefeated league run by upsetting the Jaguars on penalty kicks in the championship game.
“The kids look forward to it every time we play them,” Killmaier said. “It will be a good, tough game. If it goes to [penalty kicks] again, it will sure be exciting for the fans.”