Downey High's soccer team had a memorable run in last year's Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs, reaching the championship match. Can the Knights do it again?
"This is the fourth year in a row we've made the playoffs, so we've got the experience," Downey coach Adrian Romero said. " I don't think we will sneak up on teams this year."
Not after the way Romero's team dominated visiting St. Mary's during a 3-1 victory in Wednesday's playoff opener.
"I think the competition in league, with us, Johansen and Modesto all beating each other, helped us get ready for the playoffs," Romero said.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Merced Sun-Star
Downey (14-4-2) is at home for its next game, hosting the winner of Friday's battle between Merced (18-1-2) and Franklin of Stockton (11-7-2).
Section titles are elusive for Downey: Its last section team crown came in 1965 in track.
The Knights, who won the Modesto Metro Conference title on the final day of the regular season, got on top quickly.
Scott Cunningham was trying to set up for a score in the opening minutes, but the ball ricocheted off a defender and into the goal for a 1-0 lead. Felix Padron assisted on a goal by Nick Cash later in the first half for a 2-0 halftime lead.
"St. Mary's played three forwards and that let us control the midfield," Romero said.
"After a (4-0) loss to Modesto, we began emphasizing the need to control the midfield," added Romero, whose club has gone 4-0-1 and scored 20 goals since that loss. "Nick played a fine game there, and Scotty dropped back to help, too."
Cunningham also provided a cushion in the second half, racing down the right before centering a ball over two defenders. Eric Vera gained control by pinning the ball with his chest, took a dribble, and flicked it over the keeper for a 3-0 lead with 15 minutes left.
Even with three forwards, the Rams' offense struggled.
"Ivan (Perez) did a great job back at sweeper, picking up anyone who got away from their defender," Romero said. "It's nice having him there, knowing he'll do anything he can to protect the goalie."