The UC Merced men’s soccer team needed a little life.
Despite a dominant second half against visiting Menlo College on Wednesday afternoon, the Bobcats trailed by two goals with 10 minutes to play and were starting to run on fumes.
Luis Martinez-Stucchi provided a second wind, heading home a goal in the 84th minute. It sparked a wild final six minutes as UCM peppered the Oaks’ goal but couldn’t produce an equalizer in a 2-1 loss at Lake Field. Menlo leapfroged Merced to the top of the California Pacific Conference North Division standings with the win.
“I told the kids it’s an unfortunate result, but I was really pleased with the effort they put forth,” Bobcats coach Albert Martins said. “From the opening whistle, I felt it was a dominating effort on our part.
“We unfortunately didn’t get the goals when we needed them, but that’s soccer. It can be a cruel game.”
After a dicey opening five minutes, UC Merced (7-5, 4-3 Cal Pac) settled into the game.
Menlo looked its most dangerous during set pieces, and the Oaks (5-5-2, 4-2 Cal Pac) drew a pair in the opening five minutes to open the scoring.
UCM goalkeeper Heriberto Diaz was called into action just two minutes in, making a diving save on a header from a free kick. Diaz wasn’t as successful three minutes later when Menlo scored on a free kick from almost the same spot. Andrew Nyberg got on the other end of a Sebastian Bosch in-swinging cross, flicking it over Diaz with a glancing header to make it 1-0 Oaks.
That was pretty much it for Diaz’s work on the afternoon, as Menlo managed just five shots the rest of the way and only one on goal after the break. Unfortunately for the Bobcats, that one came on a controversial penalty kick in 59th minute.
A bad giveaway in the Merced defensive third sprung Nicholas Krahnke for a mini-breakaway. UCM left back Sergio Serrano made a last-second slide tackle, cleanly winning the ball from Krahnke. The pair ended up in a heap, however, as they converged with a sliding Diaz and Menlo was awarded a penalty.
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Bosch converted the spot kick to make it 2-0.
Martins’ squad refused to fold, continuing to press its way back into the game until the final minute. That persistence was finally rewarded in the 84th minute when Kevin Quintanilla drove a cross to the far post. Martinez-Stucchi rose above everyone, heading in a powerful shot.
The goal gave UCM a late boost, driving them forward with the hopes of an equalizer and forcing overtime. The Bobcats’ best chance to do that came in the 89th minute when striker Cody Golbad beat a trio of defenders on a loose ball and fired a blast into the chest of goalkeeper Armando Medina.
The rebound caromed into the path of UCM’s sprinting Christian Basulto, but he couldn’t get his one-timer on frame.
“It’s a shame we got the first goal so late, but it could have come with one minute left and we would have felt like we were still going to tie it up,” Martinez-Stucchi said. “I don’t feel like we got the result we deserved, but I’m proud of how we played.”
UC Merced women 1, Menlo 0 – Ashley Bennett kept up her fine play for the Bobcat, volleying home her team-high ninth goal of the season just before the half.
It would prove to be the difference as UC Merced (9-1, 5-1 Cal Pac) stayed atop the Cal Pac standings with a win over Menlo.