WATSONVILLE — They’re alive. They’re alive. They’re alive.
The No. 2-seeded Wildcatz continued their second-half reanimation on Tuesday night in the rain, walloping No. 15 Gunn, 5-1, in the first round of the Central Coast Section Division I playoffs to record their sixth straight victory.
Watsonville (12-6-3) will move on to play the winner of No. 10 San Benito and No. 7 Fremont in Saturday’s quarterfinal round at a time and site still to be determined.
The victory was the continuation of what could only be described as a successful frankenstein-like rebuild in which head coach Roland Hedgpeth, the mad scientist, shook up their starting lineup, moving several players from position to position looking for the right fit.
It seems like the realignment came at the right time, as Watsonville, which was in second to last place in league play and went — at times — weeks without a goal before the changes, is looking like a frightening freak of nature at the right time of the season.
“It feels good to prove people wrong,” said Watsonville senior Armando Ferro, referring to posts on social media and criticism from newspapers from around the area. “Every boy on here was just ready to pick it up and prove everyone wrong. It feels good to be back.”
Watsonville — an 11-time section champion and last year’s inaugural Open Division champ — was out to send a message to the rest of the D-I bracket and wasted no time in jumping on the Titans (10-7-3), as senior Noe Robledo cleaned up his own miss and found the back of the net in the seventh minute.
The Wildcatz’s offensive pressure only intensified after the game-opening score. With a mix of its smooth touch-touch style and a stout playoff-caliber physicality, Watsonville produced 16 more looks at the goal, ranging from point-blank range to 30 yards away.
Junior Armando Martinez, senior Ulises Cristino-Lopez, senior Jose Villanueva and Ferro all scored in the blowout, which could have been much worse if not for Gunn’s 6-foot-3-inch junior keeper Cooper Smith.
He made five saves in the first half, including an impressive close-range rejection on Watsonville junior Erik Herrera, who is normally automatic from 10 yards and closer.
When asked what the score would have been without Smith, Gunn head coach Ken Luis couldn’t give a definitive answer.
“I don’t know,” the coach said. “A lot more.”
Those handful of stops kept his team within striking distance for a time and Bob Hahn’s powerful strike from 40 yards away during the closing minutes of the first half gave the Titans some hope. But any possibility of an upset was quickly dashed when Ferro connected with Cristino-Lopez just four minutes into the second half.
“They’re a tough team — really good,” Luis said. “I expect they’ll probably go pretty deep into the playoffs. It was a tough match for us. We went out there and gave it our best.”
Though it was Watsonville’s highest scoring performance this season, head coach Roland Hedgpeth said he was most impressed with his new-look defense, which featured their former goal-scoring specialist Francisco Gonzales.
Gonzales’ team-first move to the back four gave Hedgpeth the freedom to test different offensive combinations while not having to worry about inexperience on defense despite the loss of senior captain Martin Lopez, who fractured his ankle earlier in the season.
“It took us a while to get the rest of them to step up and score,” Hedgpeth said. “It looks like we got it now.”
Right on time to make a push for a 12th section championship.
“We still got a lot to go,” Ferro said. “We’re going to go for it. No matter what. That’s the same goal every year, to win CCS.”