By Jeremy Balan
Before every game, Gateway High School’s boys soccer head coach Joe Killmaier makes a gut decision.
His best player, senior Fauris Franco, can be equally impactful as a goal-scoring forward and a goal-stopping goalkeeper.
In the Bay Counties League Central championship game against International, Killmaier put him in net, and the decision payed off in the Gators’ 3-1 win to clinch their second consecutive league title on Thursday at Kezar Stadium.
Franco had six huge saves in the win, and a group of quick, crafty Gateway midfielders scored three unanswered goals after International took a 1-0 lead in the third minute.
“It’s a feeling, and if we feel we need him in there, that’s where I put him,” Killmaier said of Franco. “He’s just as valuable in the field as he is in the goal. It’s a championship game and we wanted to make sure we had a solid keeper in there because they have a guy who can score at any moment.”
That guy is International senior forward Kai Leshne, who was double and triple-teamed throughout the match, and only had one shot on target.
“They marked him really well,” International head coach Carlos Bover said of the Gators’ defense on Leshne. “For anybody who has three people on them, it doesn’t matter how good you are. We tried to move him around, but they followed him everywhere.”
Gateway’s defensive game plan appeared to be faulty early on, however, when the Jaguars targeted Leshne on a long throw-in from junior Taj Millot. The Gators converged on Leshne, but the ball bounced right to unmarked junior Maxwell Drolet, who put the ball off the crossbar and into the net to give International a 1-0 lead.
Gateway equalized in the 18th minute, when junior Ricardo Mendoza tapped in a rebound off a free kick from Marlon Morales, then took the lead for good four minutes later, when sophomore Giovanni Luna broke past the International back line and snuck the ball past goalkeeper Lucas Harrell. Gateway put the game out reach of in the 59th minute on the second half’s only goal from senior midfielder Paul Bustamonte.
“We had to give up an early goal to get going,” Killmaier said. “We just know we can come back.”
The win gives Gateway another BCL Central title, and both teams will receive bids to the North Coast Section Division
V II tournament, but ends what has become one of the City’s best soccer rivalries, as International will move to the Bay Counties League West next season.
“We’re going to miss them,” Bover said. “Hopefully we’ll [arrange] to play them in [nonleague games], but we will miss them, for sure.”