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Pair of unsung heroes lift Artesia past Bellflower in second half


By Loren Kopff

BELLFLOWER- During the offseason and again at the beginning of the regular season, Artesia boys soccer head coach Rudy Magallon predicted Bellflower would have the best shot of knocking the Pioneers off their perch as Suburban League top dogs. Throughout the first half and nearly half of the second half, his prediction was coming true.

But a pair of unknown entities to the outside world of Artesia boys soccer stole the show in the final 24 minutes and guided the Pioneers to a 2-1 road victory last Friday afternoon in a matchup of the top ranked and seventh ranked teams in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division IV.

“I know they’ve been building to this and they’re a good team,” Magallon said of Bellflower. “They’re behind us and I know they were going to come with everything. But this is a team with resilience and no stop. We just keep on working. We’ve been behind before. We didn’t panic. We kept on playing and playing. It wasn’t probably our best game but we gutted it out and we got the plays when we needed.”

The win ended the first round of league action and kept the Pioneers (15-0-4 overall, 6-0-0 in league) three points ahead of Norwalk and eight points ahead of Bellflower. The Buccaneers dominated the majority of the first half offensively and defensively. The hosts were heavily guarding senior forward Alejandro Martinez, the team and league’s leading scorer and kept him from scoring for the first time since a Dec. 29 game in the Sunny Hills Classic. Artesia would get three shots on goal and trailed 1-0 at the half behind a header from Diego Sanchez.

“We’re undefeated and ranked number one [in the division] and they’re going to come with everything,” Magallon said. “Sometimes, the tough part is we have to match their energy and I think it takes us a while. Once you have that bull’s eye thing on you, they’re going to come and play you 100 percent.”

Martinez finally got a chance in the 54th minute but his attempt went high above the crossbar. Two minutes later, freshman forward Jesus Gudino, who had entered the game eight minutes earlier, was dragged down just inside the penalty box and senior midfielder Joel Atilano converted the penalty kick for his 12th tally of the season, seven behind Martinez’ team-leading 19 goals.

Five minutes later, Martinez had another shot saved at the right post and shortly after that, his breakaway pass to Atilano was nullified because the latter was offside. The game remained tied until the 75th minute when Martinez, still double-teamed, was maneuvering through the penalty box before finding junior midfielder Francisco Ortiz who kicked in the game-winner from the right post. It was the third goal of the season for Ortiz, first in league play.

“We have to play with whoever we have,” Magellan said. “Of course we’re concerned [about injuries] but at the same time, we have to play with whoever is there. I’ve been telling them all year, we’re 25 or 26 [players] deep and some way or another, we’re going to use [all] of them.”

The Buccaneers had a chance to send the game into overtime in stoppage time but Hector Soltis’ shot hit the left post on a free kick just outside the penalty box in the 82nd minute. The win allowed the Pioneers to remain undefeated and untied through the first round of league play for the first time since going 5-0-0 during the 1997-1998 seasons. Back then, Cerritos had not joined the league. Five times this century, Artesia had finished the first round undefeated but had at least one tie. The Pioneers, who have allowed 21 goals through 19 games, will visit John Glenn today, host Mayfair on Monday and visit La Mirada on Wednesday.

“I just can’t explain it,” Magellan said of this season. “There is just something that this team has that the other teams didn’t. Maybe luck is on our side.”

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