State

Pitman reaches new heights in soccer playoffs

Pitman High's never been in a Sac-Joaquin Section soccer final. Coach Oscar Mercado doesn't believe the Pride has even made it a semifinal.

But Pitman shattered that first barrier Tuesday, getting an assist from halfway round the world to post a 2-1 quarterfinal victory over Johansen.

Eduardo Meza scored twice for Pitman (16-6-4), which faces Merced (20-1-2) tonight at 7 at Lincoln High in Stockton.

The Central California Conference rivals split their two matches, including a 2-1 Pitman win called with 3 minutes left because of fighting.

Pitman had plenty of fight in it Tuesday, but it was a constructive emotion that produced two second-half goals.

"We talked at halftime how this might be our last game," said Mercado, whose club finished second behind Merced. "I told everyone to be aggressive, to look for that big goal."

Meza fired away from the right side with 32 minutes in the match. Goalie Rafael Rodriguez dove for the ball, but he came up a few feet short.

Johansen appeared to have tied it on Aaron Singh's header with 28 minutes left, but the goal was waved off due to a foul away from the ball.

Meza put in what proved to be the winning goal, giving Pitman a 2-0 lead with 4 minutes left, off a tenacious play by forward Ertugrul Gunyar. The Turkish exchange student was victorious in a one-on-one battle at midfield and toe-tapped the ball to Meza.

Meza, heading downfield as he saw Gunyar would win his battle, dashed 40 yards with the ball. He shot it high in the right corner as Rodriguez came out to defend the play.

"Ertu took it away from the guy, and when I saw he would win the ball, I started looking to go to the goal," Meza said.

Both Meza and Gunyar are forwards, but Mercado noted that all his players are defenders -- regardless of their role.

"Our offense starts with defense," Mercado said.

Estevan Tinoco scored on a penalty kick with 2:30 left to make it 2-1. His kick bounced off the left post, but he pursued the ball and his second attempt got past the goalie.

Bee staff writer Richard T. Estrada can be reached at restrada@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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