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BOYS SOCCER Norwalk nips Artesia in the final minute in renewal of old Suburban League rivalry

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

Dating back to the 1980s, the biggest boys soccer rivalry in the Suburban League was Artesia High and Norwalk High, and since the 1997-1998 season until Artesia joined the 605 League prior to the 2018-2019 school year, those two programs combined for 13 league titles and 13 second place finishes. They had not faced each other since Jan. 24, 2018, a 1-0 Norwalk victory, although a Dec. 23, 2019game had been scheduled.

But the rivalry was revisited last Thursday night and the game lived up to everything that fierce rivalry was in the Suburban League. Norwalk senior midfielder Antonio Bautista got loose on a breakaway, raced down the right side of the field and scored the game-winning goal in the 79th minute to give the host Lancers a 3-2 victory. This was the 43rd meeting between the Pioneers and Lancers since Jan. 16, 1998, and the series now stands at 16-16-11.

“It was definitely fun,” said Norwalk head coach Vinson Pluma. “We’ve been having some interesting games this year. We haven’t played Artesia in four or five years, so it was finally nice to get the chance to play them again. I saw [Artesia assistant and former head coach] Rudy [Magallon] and I just gave him a big hug because I miss the guy, the competition and everything. I just wish the best for them, and they have a good team.

I don’t understand why they are in [Division] 5,” he continued. They don’t deserve to be in D5. They’re a quality team; they have a lot of talent. They’re going to go far in D5. They should win it all.”

“I wasn’t there for much of the boys in the Suburban League, but Rudy is still here, and I knew it’s a big rivalry between us and I knew we were looking forward to this game,” said Artesia head coach Octavio Marquez. “Unfortunately, we lost, but it was something we were looking forward to playing because we knew it was going to be competitive and exciting.”

Norwalk (3-0-2), ranked fourth in the Division 2 poll as selected by the CIF-Southern Section Boys Soccer Advisory Committee, may have won the game, but it didn’t look that way in the first half, which was dominated by the Pioneers. Norwalk didn’t take its first shot until the 22ndminute when senior defender Juan Ossorio’s free kick from 19 yards out was too high. Meanwhile, Artesia (3-1-0) was peppering Norwalk senior netminder Juan Andres Camacho to the tune of 10 shots.

Despite the one-sided affair, the game remained scoreless until the 34th minute when Norwalk junior midfielder Diego Martinez connected on a penalty kick. Then shortly before halftime, Artesia sophomore defender David Ramirez got the equalizer when his free kick from 32 yards out got past Camacho. It was the second straight game in which Ramirez had scored on a free kick.

Skill and pressure are two different things, and they were putting pressure by kicking the ball deep into our defense,” Pluma said of the first half. “Every time we were trying to build up…we were trying to spread the field and they were getting beat. We really couldn’t get started and our three midfielders never really clicked together.”

“Even though they got the PK, I thought we dominated the majority of the first half,” Marquez said. “Then in the second half, we just kind of went away from our game plan. Norwalk did put a lot more pressure on us in the second half that contributed to that.”

The Lancers made some adjustments prior to the second half and flipped the script for the second 40 minutes, but the scoring remained absent until the final minutes. However, both teams had their share of opportunities. Four minutes into the second half, Norwalk junior midfielder Diego Paz sent a crossing pass to senior midfielder Lucas Paz, whose shot was too high. A minute later, a long range shot from Norwalk senior forward Andrew Cruz was deflected by junior goalkeeper Daniel Zamarripa.

Artesia was limited to five shots in the second half, but the first one didn’t come until the 61st minute when senior forward Richard Virgen missed on a long shot following a breakaway. Artesia’s second shot came in the 69th minute when junior forward Diego Corona’s open net shot went above the crossbar.

The action began to heat up in the final five minutes and it began when Artesia senior midfielder Raul Pantoja’s header was saved by Camacho and the follow-up from sophomore forward Kenneth Avila was too high. Senior midfielder Juan Carbajal put the Lancers in front 2-1 in the 77th minute, but after a long throw-in from junior defender Alejandro Robles, junior midfielder Juan Valadez tied the game a minute later.

“It was exciting,” Marquez said. “I thought defensively, we were caught a little bit flat-footed in the back which contributed to both of those goals.”

It’s focus; it’s being able to stay focused when you’re tired,” Pluma said. “Some teams…you can be countered very easily when you don’t have the legs and then you’re like, ‘oh, I can’t get there’. You can’t put your head down. You have to keep playing until you here the [final] whistle. Lucas Paz is the one who was really pushing, and also Diego Martinez. Their energy level picked up the last five to 10 minutes and they were just driving the ball down to the goal.”

During the past 43 meetings, this was the sixth time the game has ended in a 3-2 affair with the Lancers winning five of those games. Artesia, ranked eighth Division 5, rebounded for an 8-1 victory over the California Military Institute last Saturday and blanked Portola High on the road 2-0 this past Tuesday. The Pioneers travelled to Kennedy High on Dec. 9 and will entertain another former Suburban League foe, Mayfair High, on Tuesday, and The Webb Schools on Thursday. Norwalk which hosted Garden Grove High this past Wednesday, will go to Sonora High today before welcoming Anaheim High on Wednesday.

“Norwalk is a great program [and] obviously we’re a great program too,” Marquez said. “But it would be nice to make it an annual game.