WATSONVILLE—Watsonville High junior Abraham Fuentes has not played much for the Wildcatz boys’ soccer team this season.
But whenever his number has been called this winter, he has been a difference-maker in various critical situations.
Tuesday night’s Central Coast Section Open Division semifinals were no different.
Fuentes, who moved up from the JV team earlier this season, scored the go-ahead goal in stoppage time to lift the No. 2-seeded Wildcatz over No. 3 Saint Francis-Mountain View, 1-0.
With the win, Watsonville earned the right to play for a CCS title for the first time since the 2016-17 campaign. It will play Branham High at Del Mar High School in San Jose on Friday at 7:30pm.
“We’re feeling great, we feel happy going to the finals,” Fuentes said. “We’re going for that final win.”
Fuentes was standing around the 30-yard line in the Lancers’ zone when his teammate Mateo Arias screamed down the sideline with the ball. Fuentes kept pace with Arias as he anticipated the cross pass.
“I knew he was going to center it, I knew I was going to be in the right position and I was,” Fuentes said. “It’s a great feeling, great feeling. We’re going to finals now.”
Arias said he was actually trying to shoot the ball and then it happened to bounce off of Lancers goalie Willem Kelson, giving Fuentes the chance to tap in the game-winner for Watsonville.
“That was awesome,” Arias said.
The Wildcatz are no strangers to the CCS postseason, and neither is coach Roland Hedgpeth, who is in his 50th year coaching soccer. Over his prolific run with Watsonville, he has captured nine of the program’s 11 CCS soccer titles and led the Wildcatz to 16 championship game appearances since his first finals game in 1988.
Hedgpeth said this year has been as exciting as any other season, and that the players have been working hard to become a powerful squad.
“Before we were playing hard and individually, now we’re playing as a team and doing what we need to do,” he said.
Arias said that this year’s group has built something special.
“The consistency is there, we’ve been working hard,” he said. “It feels like even after a practice that we just finished a game. We’re exhausted after practice because we’re so driven to try to win this. Our goal is to win CCS and we’re there.”
Fuentes said he was just glad that he was able to save the Wildcatz from heading into overtime for a second straight game.
The Wildcatz advanced to the CCS semifinals after a 2-0 win in overtime against fresh rival Lincoln High, which defeated Watsonville earlier in the season.
Senior goalie Edgar Angel recorded the clean sheet for the ‘Catz.
Angel said getting the win against Lincoln was huge, especially for the seniors on the team.
The Lions have had the Wildcatz’s number in recent years, including last year’s loss in the CCS D-1 semifinals and again in 2017 in the championship match.
This season, Lincoln defeated Watsonville in the Gold Division final for the Homestead Christmas Cup.
“I didn’t want to go out to the same team again,” Angel said.
Arias opened up the scoring for the ’Catz in the first overtime period off of a corner kick. Senior forward Oscar Herrera extended the lead in the second overtime period.
Arias had a couple of golden chances to score against Saint Francis, including one that saw the ball bounce in front of him but his shot sailed over the crossbar.
“You shouldn’t forgive those,” he said. “Those are there and I shouldn’t have taken that for granted. But hey, we still took the win, 1-0. So I couldn’t ask for anything else.”
Arias said the team was on ecstatic following the big win. However, it was back to business as usual on Wednesday and now the Wildcatz have one more win to go to bring back home a CCS title for the first time since the 2015-16 season.
“This is an unbelievable feeling,” Arias said. “This is my first time ever in a CCS finals. So I’m glad that this team, that we’ve been putting in a lot of hard work, we’re there now.”
To purchase tickets go to https://gofan.co/app/school/CIFCCS. They will not sell tickets at the door and those attending the game will need to show a digital ticket stub at the gate.
*Additional reporting by sports intern Lucia Meza