The Bakersfield College men's soccer team simply could not settle for a draw against Antelope Valley Friday afternoon.
The first-place Marauders entered the match at 5-0-2 in conference, with the Renegades on their heels at 4-0-3. Nothing short of a win would suffice, particularly with BC on the low end of the playoff picture based on the California Community College Athletic Association's "Power Points" system.
Not to mention that BC only found itself in this position because it blew a two-goal lead to Antelope Valley in Lancaster on Oct. 25.
So when Christian Gomez went down in the box on a corner kick to set up a successful Chris Romero penalty mere moments before halftime and even the score at 1-1, it was an immense blow to the Renegades' chances.
But on a day that BC honored its sophomores, their experience helped the team keep its focus.
"At halftime they're like, 'Stay calm, we've got another 45 minutes, it's 0-0, go win the half and you win the game' — that was our plan, with a couple tactical adjustments," BC coach Vayron Martinez said.
"They kept their head. We didn't give the game away."
Instead, in the 56th minute, playmaking sophomore midfielder Anthony Miron controlled a chipped pass from Jobanni Hernandez off his chest and whirled around for a hard volley that flew past Bryan Rios Martinez for the go-ahead goal in what became a 3-2 victory.
The goal came out of nowhere — for everyone but Miron.
"Actually, I had already visualized the play before it even happened," Miron said. "I received the ball, I played my teammate, my teammate played it to my other teammate, and then I was already making a run because I had (seen) a gap. But then I kind of stutter-stepped so that I wouldn't be caught offsides, and as soon as he made eye contact with me, he hit me and then I just volleyed it in with my chest after."
It was Miron's second goal of the game, and his team-high 12th of the season, after converting a penalty of his own in the 34th minute. Angel Sandoval got on the end of a deep pass, then popped the ball up in the air with a skillful touch to make goalkeeper Daniel Pantaleon slam into him for a foul.
Pantaleon had been successful coming way out for a previous stop in the 15th minute, slide-tackling Sandoval at the edge of the box. But he was removed for Rios Martinez after conceding the penalty.
Sandoval tormented the Marauders all afternoon and set up another key play later in the match, making the extra pass from a tough angle to set up an Andrew Carrasco insurance goal in the 80th minute.
"We took our chances and we put them away," Martinez said. "It was good for us to have this type of game to prepare going into the playoffs."
Carrasco's late strike loomed large because Casey Ramirez put away a header for the Marauders less than three minutes later, leading to a white-knuckle last few moments for BC.
But the Renegades survived, finishing unbeaten in conference play. They claimed their third conference championship in four years, all the more impressive since they didn't play in 2020.
Now they'll await a regional playoff opponent, likely at home Wednesday per Martinez.
At halftime of an uninspiring 0-0 game against West LA, BC coach Edgar Linares had a simple message to his team: "Relax."
"I think they're very energetic, and sometimes when you have too much of that energy it causes chaos and panic," Linares said. "And all I was just trying to reinforce is to relax, that 45 minutes is a long time, and if they just relax and play the game they know how to play, they'll be fine, they'll be successful."
Clearly, the point got across. The Renegades drove in three goals in rapid succession after the half — a rebound converted by Alexa Shearer, one of five sophomores honored Friday, and two quick strikes from Camila Moncada — and tacked on one more thanks to a solo run from Olga Amador in the closing minutes of the game.
They breezed past the Wildcats for a 4-0 win to move to 11-5-5 on the year, 6-5-3 in conference, and bolster their own resume entering the postseason.
"I'm confident that we will make playoffs," Linares said, "and I think we are one of those teams that can surprise a lot of other teams."
The surprise early in Friday's match was that BC didn't score sooner. In fact, Leslie Walker was threatening from her striker spot for West LA early on, and America Villalpando and Mary Godinez both had long shots hit the bar.
The West LA offense began to fade, however, after Walker got sent off half an hour in.
Offensive positioning was the biggest challenge for the Renegades, who had goals from Shearer, Liliana Flores and Precious Bautista disallowed due to offside calls before Shearer finally broke the seal.
The win concluded a strong bounce-back regular season for BC under Linares and set up the Renegades for a likely playoff matchup of their own next week.