WATSONVILLE–The Gunn High boys’ soccer team came into the CIF NorCal State playoffs as one of the Cinderella stories.
Senior forward James Hahn helped keep the Titans’ fairytale story going with an upset road win against top-seeded Watsonville High in the Division I Regional quarterfinals Tuesday.
“Going into this game we didn’t know what to expect,” Hahn said. “Obviously we’re a bit nervous, this could be our last game, but we battled through and we ended up with the result.”
Hahn scored twice for No. 8 Gunn (16-1-2), which came in as the Central Coast Section Division I champ.
Senior goalkeeper Neppa Pierre recorded the clean sheet, picking up four saves for the Titans.
“[Watsonville] has so much talent and they’re so organized that it took us our ‘A’ game to beat them,” said Gunn coach Vava Marques.
As for the Wildcatz, it was their last game of the season.
It was the first time Watsonville and Gunn met since their match in the opening round of the Central Coast Section Division I playoffs in 2017. The Wildcatz smashed the Titans, 5-1.
However, their rematch on Tuesday was a much different outcome. It was a loss that Watsonville junior Jael Leal couldn’t wrap his mind around.
“We’re shocked. It was a tough loss,” he said. “We’re out and our season is over. It’s just a lot of emotions in our heads right now.”
The Wildcatz (16-4-2), who won the Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan division, were ranked No. 24 in the state by MaxPreps going into Tuesday’s match.
The Titans were ranked No. 36. Marques said nobody believed in them since the start of the CCS D-I playoffs.
“We’re like the ugly girl or boy coming in, the Cinderella-type of story,” he said.
Gunn eliminated San Mateo High in the quarterfinal, followed by a win in penalty kicks over top-seeded Salinas High in the semis.
They finished their championship run with a victory over Archbishop Mitty High in the final.
Tuesday was another big win for the Titans and is all the motivation they need heading into the next round.
“I think we have to believe in ourselves and I think that we have,” Marques said. “Every time they have that kind of attitude coming into the game they overcome all the obstacles.”
The Wildcatz couldn’t shake off last week’s tough loss to rival Bellarmine Prep in the CCS Open Division semifinals.
They controlled the ball for most of the game, but the problem once again was not being able to finish on the attack.
Leal also mentioned the warm temperature, which got as high as 70 degrees by kickoff, may have played a small factor on the field.
“We’re not used to playing like this,” he said. “We weren’t really sprinting and it pretty much drained us.”
Watsonville coach Roland Hedgpeth said his team came up short on several opportunities that could have turned the game around.
“We couldn’t score, that’s all there was to it,” he said. “We make two mistakes and they score.”
Hahn gave the Titans the game’s first goal with a strike in the 19th minute. He saw an opening in the defense and allowed the ball to bounce over a defender, which gave him the clean shot.
“As soon as they score they’ve got five [defenders] back there and now we have to go through five instead of four,” Hedgpeth said.
Leal was given a pair of chances coming out of the half to tie the game but neither found its mark. The frustration continued in the 57th as Leal was set up with a free kick that went over the crossbar and beyond.
“We thought we had a good chance to win state but we just couldn’t accomplish it,” Leal said.
Hahn put the game out of reach in the 71st, as he scored his second goal of the afternoon.
And as the sun set over the Pajaro Valley, so did the Wildcatz’s season.
“It hurt me not because we lost but because the seniors didn’t have a chance to go on, that’s what hurt me,” Hedgpeth said.