Pajaro Valley High senior Carlos Mata leaps in the air after scoring the go-ahead goal for the Grizzlies boys' soccer team, which beat Sequoia,. 2-1, in the Central Coast Section Division I semifinals on Feb. 22. (Juan Reyes/The Pajaronian)

REDWOOD CITY—Pajaro Valley High senior Carlos Mata wasn’t in the starting lineup for their critical Central Coast Section Division I semifinal match against Sequoia High on Wednesday afternoon.

In fact, he wasn’t even expecting to see any playing time on the pitch until he got his number called just before halftime. 

Mata took advantage of his opportunity and his go-ahead goal was the difference in a 2-1 victory over the No. 3 seed Ravens that helped the No. 7 Grizzlies boys’ soccer team advance to the section finals for the first time in 15 years.

Mata was still at a loss for words minutes after the final whistle was blown.

“I’m still processing everything right now,” he said. 

It meant a lot for Mata and the rest of his teammates to get back to the championship and a chance to bring home the program’s second section trophy.

The last time the Grizzlies advanced to a CCS final was in the 2007-2008 season when they won the Division II title. 

“At the beginning of the season we said this team was going to make history right here,” he said. “I’m a senior, this is my last year and I’m giving it my all because I know there’s not going to be another time.” 

Pajaro Valley coach Cesar Rojas looked nervous and was shaking on the sideline in what was his first experience coaching in the CCS semifinals. 

“My mind was just, we have to defend,” he said. “Luckily the boys listened.” 

As an assistant coach, Rojas’ previous trip to the postseason ended in a heartbreaking loss on penalty kicks to Gunn High in the Open Division quarterfinals just two years ago. 

He mentioned the players may have gone into Wednesday’s game with some doubt and it seemed like some of them were nervous playing on the big stage. 

“It’s a combination of the two,” Rojas said. “We have such a great team and there’s a couple of players that made the difference.”

Senior forward Ignacio Aguado and junior midfielder Isaac Rojas have been the leaders on and off the pitch for the Grizzlies this season.

Aguado has a team-best 14 goals to go along with 14 assists, and Rojas leads with 24 assists and 11 goals scored this season.

Senior midfielder Johan Vazquez has 11 goals and 11 assists, while fellow teammates Jesus Alvarado and Daniel Murillo each have eight goals for Pajaro Valley on the year. 

Mata said the major difference is they’ve been doing a bunch of team bonding activities after practice. It’s made them become a tighter unit and because of it the chemistry shows both on and off the pitch.

Senior goalkeeper Damian Rodriguez has been a stalwart for Pajaro Valley during the postseason. He made seven saves in Wednesday’s semifinals but none was bigger than the one he made toward the end of the game where he blocked a potential game-tying score.

“I got nervous at first but when I saved it, I was relieved,” Rodriguez said. “After that, I just kicked the ball away so the game could finish.”

Rojas believes his standout goalkeeper was the player of the game and he’s lucky to have someone as talented as Rodriguez standing in front of the net.

Rodriguez also had eight saves in their 2-1 victory in last week’s quarterfinal win over No. 2 Prospect High. He credited his defensive unit for keeping the ball out of Pajaro Valley’s zone for most of the afternoon and during the season.

However, the Ravens did stun the Grizzlies early in the game when senior striker Leimana Makasini passed it to fellow teammate Daniel Schembri for the game’s first goal in the 3rd minute, giving them a 1-0 lead.

“It was a little bit too quick,” Rodriguez said. “When [Schembri] shot it, I couldn’t get the ball out of there.”

The “Osos Malosos” [Mean Grizzlies] were done playing nice and senior Ignacio Aguado tied the score at 1-1 in the 24th minute. He received the pass from junior Isaac Rojas and Aguado split past a pair of defenders for the breakaway goal.

Then just before halftime, junior defender Ivan Escobar perfectly set up Aguado for a pass, who then found Mata for the go-ahead goal in the 38th minute, giving Pajaro Valley its first lead at 2-1.

Mata saw the gap, looked at Aguado and before he knew it the ball was in front of him for the wide open shot. 

“I didn’t think to pass it, I just shot and saw it go in,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it. The adrenaline you feel after, it’s really nice.”

The wind gusts picked up and it was going against the Grizzlies in the second half. Mata said everything at that point was to just kick the ball up and away from their zone, including no fouls around the goal area that could’ve put them in danger.

“We had to keep it pushing and we couldn’t let our guard down, or get too cocky,” Mata said. “It was a fun game, intense.” 

Prior to each match, Rojas will always ask the boys if they want another practice and without any hesitation they respond with a yes. But in order to do so they have to continue to win.

“Because if you lose, you don’t get another practice,” he said. “That’s in their head right now. One of the guys came up and told me, ‘We have another practice coach.’”

Things continue to move forward for the Grizzlies and there are some minor things from Wednesday’s game that Mata would like to see get polished up before heading into the final against Bellarmine.

“I take it as a learning experience, the job’s not finished,” Mata said. 

The Grizzlies (16-1-4)—ranked No. 21 in the CCS— will take on No. 5 Bellarmine (13-5-4)—ranked No. 3 in the CCS—in the D-I finals at Del Mar High School in San Jose at 3pm.

Rojas said it helps to play on a neutral site, especially one that’s closer to home because it allows Grizzlies fans to attend the game. They’ve had a ton of support from the faculty that show up to the game to the campus security who are making sure players go to class. 

“It’s not just me or coach Juan [Roman], it’s the whole school and community,” Rojas said. 

Rojas knows Bellarmine is a powerhouse squad that is talented and has experience competing in the CCS postseason on a yearly basis. But, he said at this point in the season it doesn’t matter who they play because they’re just as hungry as any other team in the finals.

“We’re going to try to win the game because we’re not going to make it easy for them,” Rojas said. “We are obviously going to put up a battle, but anyone is a good match for us.”

Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students/children/seniors, and can be purchased on the GoFan website at

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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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