Steve Menezes may want to try his hand at prognostication more often.
On a whim, the Atwater High girls soccer coach told sophomore Melissa Lopez that she was going to score during their home room class on Monday.
The Falcons' stopper rarely sniffs the offensive end of the pitch, so Lopez shrugged her coach off with a "yeah, sure" moment.
Yet there she was in the right place at the right time on a failed clearance of a corner kick by Merced in the 58th minute.
After a scramble, the ball fell to Lopez, who slid a shot for the far corner. The shot had little pace but was placed perfectly to provide Atwater with a 1-0 victory.
The win was the streaking Falcons' sixth in their last seven games and gives them 25 points. The victory, coupled with Golden Valley's 2-2 draw with Pitman, locked up a playoff spot for Atwater (13-5-7, 7-3-4 Central California Conference) and GV. It's the first time the Falcons have been to the playoffs since soccer became a spring sport.
Both the Cougars and Falcons sit three points behind Turlock (28 points) heading into the final day of the regular season.
It didn't appear it would be a day of celebration for Atwater the way things started.
The Falcons could barely get out of their own end as Merced dominated possession and real estate in the opening 20 minutes.
"Everything just started late for us today," Menezes said. "We were late getting here. It threw our warm-up off and, unfortunately, this is a team has a tendency of starting slowly anyway."
The Bears (4-13, 3-11 CCC) failed to take advantage, however. Despite being firmly entrenched on the Atwater side of the pitch, Merced couldn't produce shots on goal.
All the dangerous chances belonged to the Falcons after that.
"It's what we've done all year," Merced coach Brooke Wilson said. "We came out really strong and then started being inconsistent. We've just struggled to maintain our level of play for a whole game."
Atwater switched its game to a wing-oriented attack in the second half and began opening the Merced defense up.
Striker Alyssa Ruiz got in behind the Bear defense a couple times, but was denied by a pair of quality saves from goalkeeper Jessika McCleskey (eight saves).
Lopez finally broke the deadlock in the 58th minute after an Atwater corner kick caromed around the Merced 18-yard box.
"The ball was right there, I just reacted," Lopez said. "I thought the ball was going to be cleared out by one of the defenders, I hit it so slow, but it just rolled in the perfect spot."
Golden Valley 2, Pitman 2
TURLOCK -- With two losses in its last two games and in danger of falling out of playoff positioning, Golden Valley was in desperate need of some senior leadership.
A trio responded for the Cougars, led by Alex Eber's goal and an assist. Brianna Bond added a goal and Sara Callister provided an assist as Golden Valley (12-7-3, 8-5-1 CCC) picked up a big road draw with Pitman.
Buhach Colony 0
ATWATER -- The Bulldogs grabbed at least a share of their second consecutive CCC title with a road win over the Thunder (3-8-3 CCC.)
Turlock bounced back from a disastrous start to its title defense by winning seven of its last eight games.