CRUSHING LOSS The Bellarmine College Prep boys’ soccer team celebrates after defeating Watsonville High in the Central Coast Section Open Division Semifinals Tuesday. (Juan Reyes — The Pajaronian)

WATSONVILLE–The Watsonville High boys’ soccer team was extremely confident it would get to the Central Coast Section Open Division Finals this season.

The only problem is the No. 2 seed Wildcatz ran into Bellarmine College Prep, which added another heartbreaking chapter to teams’ historic rivalry.

The Bells edged host Watsonville, 2-1, on Tuesday in another classic CCS semifinals match.

“We tried our best but we could’ve given it a little bit more,” said Watsonville junior Jael Leal.

It was a rematch of last year’s semifinal. The Bells (16-2-4) beat the ‘Catz 3-0 en route to the CCS Open title. 

Watsonville (16-4-2, 8-0-2), an 11-time CCS champ, also lost 1-0 to 18-time CCS champ Bellarmine in the preseason this year.

Bellarmine junior Seiji Matsuda’s goal was the difference maker in Tuesday night’s game.

“To be able to score the winning goal in the semifinals to move on to the finals is amazing,” Matsuda said.

Matsuda said he knows Watsonville-Bellarmine has been a fierce rivalry and mentioned he was a bit nervous going into the match.

In the final 20 minutes, the rest of the Bells seemed nervous, too, as they looked like a team playing not to lose.

“If we would’ve done that the whole game it would’ve helped us out a little bit,” said Watsonville coach Roland Hedgpeth. 

The Wildcatz cut the deficit in half in the 55th on a Julian Garcia penalty kick.

Watsonville played like a team that knew it was on the brink of elimination.

“It was just the urgency to score,” Leal said. “We were just trying to tie and try to beat them, too.”

Leal had a chance to give the Wildcatz an early lead in the 10th minute. Jose Mendoza blasted a shot that goalkeeper Ben Galdes saved but the rebound landed in front of Leal, who sailed a wide-open shot over the crossbar. 

“That could’ve changed the whole game,” Leal said. “I kicked it wrong and I just tried to blast it in.”

A lot of the attention was on Leal, as anticipated. Watsonville’s top forward was knocked down a couple of times in the penalty area, yet, the referee allowed play to continue.

The Wildcatz were on the end of another bad break in the 14th minute. Keagan Rhodes put Bellarmine on the scoreboard first with a shot that got past Watsonville goalkeeper Jesus Flores.

Flores blocked Rhodes’ initial shot, but the rebound bounced back with a bit of golf backspin and found the back of the net.

Uriel Morales had a chance to extend the lead in the 28th but his shot hit the top of the crossbar, giving the Wildcatz a small scare.

But Bellarmine was able to get past Flores once again in the 50th. Matsuda received the ball in the open field and let the canon loose from 35-yards out for a 2-0 lead.

“I was really surprised that I ended up with the ball at the top of the box,” Matsuda said. “I just hit it and didn’t really aim it.”

The Wildcatz found new life and hopes of pushing the match into overtime on Garcia’s PK. Eric Vazquez’s laser was right on goal but Galdes was there with the save. 

Leal also had another open shot but that one was also no good.

Leal scored twice in a 3-2 overtime win against St. Ignatius College Prep in the quarterfinals last week on Saturday. Garcia added the other goal for Watsonville.

The Bells beat No. 6 Leland, 3-0, in their playoff opener. They’ll try to repeat as the Open Division champ in a finals match against No. 4 Sacred Heart Prep tonight at Stevens Stadium in Santa Clara. 

The Wildcatz, who won the PCAL Gabilan division championship, are not out of the postseason just yet. 

Leal said he hopes they can learn from what happened on Tuesday and just get better before making a run at a state title.

They’ll find out Sunday where they’ll be placed in the CIF NorCal Division I Regionals, which begin Tuesday.

“We still have a long way to go,” Hedgpeth said. “It’s just I wanted to beat Bellarmine so bad.”

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A Watsonville native who has a passion for local sports and loves his community. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College, San Jose State University and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Cabrillo College athletics, various youth sports in the Pajaro Valley and the Santa Cruz Warriors. Juan is also a video game enthusiast, part-time chef (at home), explorer and a sports junkie. Coaches and athletic directors are encouraged to report scores HERE.


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