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BOYS SOCCER: Artesia dominates second half to rout Gahr for third win of season

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter


Octavio Marquez had been the longtime girls soccer head coach at Artesia High, building what was once a floundering program into a competitive program that has advanced to the postseason the past seven seasons. Now, Marquez has replaced Rudy Magallon, who had been at the helm of the boys program for over 20 seasons.

And through the first nine games of the 2016-2017 season, Marquez hasn’t had much success with his new team. But when the Pioneers visited Gahr High this past Tuesday afternoon, they won consecutive games for the first time this season. Backed by a four-goal second half performance, Artesia blasted the Gladiators 5-1 to improve to 3-7.

“It’s been rough,” Marquez said. “After spending so many years on the girls side…with guys, it’s different. You have to deal with some egos and talent-wise, there’s a lot more talent with the guys. I think that’s the challenge with being the coach; getting these guys to actually go out there and perform and use that talent.

“It’s been a tough start but seven of our opponents have been Division I teams,” he added. “Even though we haven’t received the results in those games that we wanted, the thing that I would hope for is that it prepares us for league.”

The first half was played pretty much as tight as one could get between a pair of ABC Unified School District rivals. In the seventh minute, Artesia senior midfielder Francisco Sierra’s free kick just went to the left of the net. But it would be another free kick that landed Artesia’s first goal.

In the 25th minute, a hand ball by a Gahr player a yard outside the penalty box allowed Artesia senior forward Jorge Pantoja to take a free kick. His shot would initially hit the left post before deflecting in for a 1-0 lead. Gahr would tie the game five minutes later when sophomore midfielder Alexis Salto scored off a rebound when sophomore forward Obi Leonard’s shot hit the crossbar and bounced back to Salto.

Both teams combined for seven shots in the first half but it would be a completely different story in the second half. In the 55th minute, junior midfielder Sergio Flores took a corner kick and found freshman midfielder Jose Aguilar who deposited a goal inside the left post. A minute later, and what turned out to be the turning point of the game, Gahr senior forward Alexander Gonzalez got loose on a breakaway, but his shot hit the crossbar.

What could have been a 2-2 game quickly turned into a 3-1 lead for the Pioneers because a minute later, Sierra scored off a pass from senior forward Jose Ortiz.

“If Gahr puts that away, it’s a whole different ballgame [and] they have momentum on their side,” Marquez said. “We were able to come back and put that away and I think after them being so close to possibly tying it and we come back and score, I think that kind of caught them off guard.”

The Pioneers continued that momentum the remainder of the game and in the 64th minute, went up 4-1 when Ortiz scored off an Aguilar pass. The play was set up after Artesia junior goalkeeper Osbaldo Hernandez had a punch save off a Gahr corner kick. Sierra would then cap off the scoring with 10 minutes remaining in the game with a long shot that found the right side of the net. Artesia would outshoot the Gladiators (3-2-1) 9-2 in the second half.

“We told them at the half that our energy level wasn’t there,” Marquez said. “I think [Gahr] had a little more energy than us and after halftime, we let them know that our energy wasn’t where it should be. I think we picked it up in the second half.”

Artesia, which shutout Long Beach Poly High 4-0 last Friday, has now scored two fewer goals in the back to back wins than in the first eight games combined. The Pioneers faced St. John Bosco High on Dec. 22 and will host the California Military Institute on Wednesday. Gahr does not have any scheduled games until Jan. 10 when it hosts Lynwood High in the San Gabriel Valley League opener.

“For us, preseason doesn’t really matter for us,” Marquez said. “Yes, we want to win. But I think the ultimate goal is we want to be ready for league. The league [play] is going to decide whether we go to the playoffs and for us, we’re really looking for league to make that next step to [the playoffs]. I think we’re on the right path. Our record doesn’t show it, but like I said, we’ve played some tough teams and hopefully we’ve gained some experience from those games.”