HHS Boys Soccer
Hughson boys soccer team finishes second in TVL; opens playoffs at Delhi on Friday

How quickly things can change. The Hughson boys soccer team was riding high in first place in the Trans-Valley League standings with two home matches to play. A strong finish would earn the Huskies their first league title in more than 30 years.

Instead, disaster struck.

Senior co-captain and defensive ace Jesus Artea broke his left leg on a slide tackle in the first half of Hughson’s 3-2 loss to Livingston on Thursday. Then another key defender, James Rodriguez, learned Monday that he has a torn quad muscle and will miss the rest of the season. Minus Artea, Rodriguez and Noe Pacheco – another defensive starter who is out because of a family matter – the Huskies tied Hilmar 2-2 on Tuesday.

The disappointing finish dropped Hughson to 7-2-1 in the TVL, a half-game behind Riverbank (8-2) in the final standings.

“For sure, it hurts with the amount of injuries we’ve had, especially at this time of the season,” said Hughson Coach Edgar Lopez. “But I’m really impressed with my boys. Everyone has stepped up. It’s an environment we’ve put together throughout the season; we’re going to battle to the very end.”

The final two matches likely cost Hughson a higher seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V playoffs. The bracket was announced Wednesday afternoon. Hughson (12-10-1 overall) is seeded sixth and will travel to face No. 3 Delhi (19-3-3) on Friday at 6 p.m. The Southern League champion Hawks are 8-0-1 at home this season.

Before the Livingston match, Hughson was on an impressive streak, shutting out seven of its eight previous opponents to surge to the top of the TVL standings. The players were excited. So were people around campus. Then the game was moved to Husky Stadium because last week’s storms saturated the normal soccer field, further adding to the enthusiasm.

But Artea’s injury, which came early in the match, was an emotional blow. He had to be carried off the field and may yet need surgery. With Artea injured, Pacheco already out and Rodriguez playing on a sore leg, Livingston pounced on the Huskies’ diminished defense, scoring all of its goals to take a 3-0 lead at halftime.

Lopez said his halftime message to his players was simple – play hard, remember how you got here and don’t give up.

To their credit, the Huskies responded. Cesar Ramos scored early in the second half to make it 3-1 and Larkin Meyer added another goal with 15 minutes to play. Suddenly, Livingston was ahead only 3-2, the crowd was back into it and Hughson had all the momentum.

But despite a lot of close chances, the Huskies couldn’t manage the goal that would have tied the game.

“Those last 5 minutes, we were bombing their box, sending everyone forward,” Lopez said.

Tuesday’s match against Hilmar “was a battle,” according to Lopez. Minus three defensive starters, the Huskies “had to make adjustments, move guys around.”

Aiden Barrios – one of the players filling in – scored his first goal of the season to give Hughson an early lead. Hilmar tied the score 1-1 in the second half and threatened to go ahead when it was awarded a penalty kick. Hughson goalie John Rodriguez blocked the try – but the referees ruled he had moved toward the kicker too early and gave the Yellowjackets a second chance. Amazingly, Rodriguez stopped that kick, too.

“I’ve never seen that before,” marveled Lopez. “We had a lot of people here because it was Senior Night and that got everyone on their feet.”

Hilmar eventually took a 2-1 lead, but Barrios came through with another clutch goal with about 5 minutes to play to make the final score 2-2.

Unfortunately, Hughson’s tie – coupled with Riverbank’s 2-0 win over Ripon – left the Huskies just short of that elusive TVL soccer title.

Next up for Hughson is Delhi, a team they saw way back on Nov. 21. The Hawks won 2-1 that day, but that was before Meyer and the rest of the football players had joined the soccer team.

“They’re skilled,” Lopez said of the Hawks, “but we’ll see how it goes this time. We’ve been sticking together. The boys have continued to play their hardest, play their best, despite the challenges.”