High School Sports News

Lomeli comes through in Merced soccer victory

akuhn@mercedsunstar.com

Adrian Lomeli isn’t your typical sweeper.

Like all good sweepers, the Merced High School junior controls the Bears’ back end by using his speed and composure to turn away anything that slips past the rest of his defense. But unlike most, Lomeli and his big left foot are a staple of the Merced attack.

Lomeli has a hand in just about every Bears set piece – driving free kicks and crashing in on corner kicks – and isn’t afraid to make a run if he sees open space. His offensive chops paid dividends Tuesday afternoon, when his goal and assist in Merced’s 3-1 victory over visiting Atwater threw the Central California Conference race back open.

The victory brings the Bears (12-3-3, 5-1-2 CCC) within two points of first-place Atwater (16-2-2, 6-1-1) with seven games to play.

“I enjoy getting in on the offense. It’s something different,” Lomeli said. “I know my guys have my back and will fill when I go up, so I try to get involved when I can. Today was just a good day.”

Lomeli made an impact on both sides of the pitch, setting up the game’s opening goal in the 21st minute.

Expecting a long cross on a free kick from about 35 yards out, the Falcons retreated into their box to defend in force. Merced took advantage of the space, playing a short pass to Lomeli down the left wing. He drove a low cross into the Atwater 18-yard box, which striker Eric Figueroa deftly controlled with his back to the goal. Figueroa spun from 15 yards out and drilled a left-footed strike to the far post to make it 1-0.

It was Merced’s first shot on goal as Atwater had the more dangerous run of play in the opening 40 minutes.

Goalkeeper Saad Sohail (five saves) was tested early, forced to make three saves in the opening 10 minutes. The Falcons missed an opportunity to score first when Luis Lopez was sprung free for a breakaway in the sixth minute, but he pulled his shot just wide.

Atwater paid for the squandered chances just before halftime when Lomeli stepped up to a free kick just inside the midfield line. Falcons goalkeeper Mario Chavez came out to catch Lomeli’s high drive into the 18 but had the ball go through his hands and bounce off his chest.

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The ball apparently had topspin, as it trickled across the line while Chavez scrambled to rectify the miscue.

“The second goal definitely hurt,” Atwater coach Jimmy Brewer said. “Merced’s first goal was a good goal, but it came on basically one of their two shots on goal in the whole half. So we were doing a good job of limiting their shots and could have gone into halftime not feeling too bad about being down a goal.

“Giving up a soft goal right before the half obviously changed everything.”

Still, Atwater came out with extra energy to open the second half and was rewarded with a goal in the 50th minute. Alex Rios shot a free kick on frame from about 35 yards out that Sohail attempted to knock over the bar. The ball caromed over his head and into the net instead.

Merced answered two minutes later when Jose Alvarado headed in an Omar Cortez cross, denying a comeback.

“If we lost, the conference race was probably over,” Merced coach Bart McAfee said. “Now we’re right back in it. Both teams control their own destiny, and we’ve got one more meeting.”

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