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Grizzlies get storybook finish to soccer season

Oakmont throws up tenacious challenge in title tilt
By: Kurt Johnson, Press-Tribune sports editor
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The Granite Bay High School boys soccer team had two goals at the beginning of the season. Coach Steve Fischer wanted his team to be successful between the lines, but he also wanted to restore the good name of his program after a well-publicized incident last season led to the suspension of eight Grizzly players. On Saturday night, an emotional Fischer stood in front of the stands at Folsom High School’s Prairie City Stadium with a powerful sense of satisfaction that comes from having accomplished what his team set out to do. “I was concerned over the past week or so because it hit me that with all of our success this season, a loss in this game would really hurt,” Fischer said after his team withstood a furious challenge from Oakmont and took the Division II Sac-Joaquin Section soccer title. “With all of the highs and lows we have experienced the past two season, we needed a storybook ending, and we got it.” The trio of seniors that has been so solid for the Grizzlies throughout the past two seasons stepped up again on Saturday and carried Granite Bay to a 5-2 win over Oakmont in the section title game. The leadership of Chris Gaschen, Ryan Hollingshead and Nate Schorer was crucial in the victory, as the Grizzlies lost a two-goal advantage before rallying to win the game late. The game was much closer than the score would indicate as the Grizzlies tallied twice in the final four minutes to open the score in a hotly contested match. The Vikings were a very capable opponent for Granite Bay in this contest, using a strong counterattacking game to get into dangerous scoring positions. The first such opportunity came just three minutes into the opening half, when Granite Bay goalkeeper Jeff Mann mishandled a ball near the goal, but Oakmont was unable to cash in. Each team received chances on rebounds from dangerous balls in the box, but the game remained scoreless for the first 30 minutes before Gaschen struck for the first of his four goals. In the 31st minute, Gaschen made one of his strong runs near the top of the Oakmont penalty area but was dropped by a hard foul that earned Viking defender Tyler Kuresa a yellow card. “We talked a lot about their one-two combination with Gaschen and Hollingshead at the top of the offense,” Oakmont coach Mark Broers said. “We wanted to avoid taking a foul in that area because Gaschen does not usually miss those chances.” He did not miss this one either as the sensational senior, who will play his collegiate soccer at Cal Poly in the fall, ripped a pinpoint laser beyond the reach of Oakmont goalkeeper Brandon Vargas into the back of the net to give Granite Bay a 1-0 lead that held up through intermission. Oakmont struck quickly with many of its offensive attacks, pushing long balls into the teeth of the Granite Bay defensive zone where junior strikers Robert Work and Cole Alexander applied the pressure. Junior midfielders Kody Duff and Roy Pedro alternated between sagging back to aid the Vikings defense and pushing forward to dump balls in at the offensive end. Those balls often found the head or feet or Schorer, the Grizzly sweeper or his defensive line mate, senior Travis Israel. Granite Bay used its passing game to build up its offense, hitting Gaschen and Hollingshead as they turned to carry the ball straight at the Oakmont defenders. With senior Austin Chapman and sophomore Connor Hallisey often joining the attack, the Grizzlies kept Kuresa, Chance Borders and Brent Lewis busy at the back of the Vikings set. While the pace of the game was fast and furious throughout, the frequency of the scoring kicked into high gear after the break. Granite Bay doubled its advantage just five minutes into the second half when a beautiful through-ball from Hollingshead put Gaschen in perfect position to bury a left-footed strike between the pipes. Down two goals, the underdog team from Oakmont refused to lie down, but instead responded with a flurry of activity in the offensive end. Six minutes after the Granite Bay goal, Duff found Pedro in front of the net with a nifty pass, which Pedro launched past Grizzly goalkeeper Kevin Hollingshead to cut the margin to one goal. Hollingshead, a sophomore and Ryan’s younger brother, came on as the Granite Bay keeper at the start of the second half. In the 16th minute, a misread by Kevin Hollingshead allowed Oakmont to equalize the match. An attempted clear from the 18-yard line by Schorer ricocheted off the hard-charging Alexander and bounced in the direction of the Granite Bay goal. Kevin Hollingshead’s reaction to the ball was late and the ball found its way beyond the goal line to tie the score at 2-2. “He (Kevin Hollingshead) was down about having made a mistake,” Fischer said. “I told him to remember that is what having a team is about, and everyone picked him up.” The Vikings picked up great energy from the second goal and kept the pressure forward in the face of the Granite Bay defenders. “I was really nervous at 2-2,” Gaschen said. “We were not playing well at that time at all, and we needed to pick it up or they were in position to score again.” “We were right there at 2-2,” Broers said. “I give great credit to Granite Bay because they are extremely well-coached and very talented, but we were right there and could not get off the shots we needed to late in the game.” The Grizzlies responded with a vengeance, using their powerful passing game to grab the lead back in the 26th minute when Hallisey fed Ryan Hollingshead, who found Gaschen at the end of a fantastic passing combination and once again Gaschen was right on target picking up the hat trick with his third goal of the night. “The great thing about Chris (Gaschen), Ryan (Hollingshead) and this group of amazing seniors is their leadership,” Fischer said. “I had Chris as a freshman when he was emotional about everything, but now he has really grown up. It is great to watch these seniors put their arm around our young players and pick them up when it is needed. Chris did not score as much this season as he did last year, but he was really part of a team.” Oakmont committed big pressure forward during the final minutes of the match, looking to score the goal that would extend the contest to extra time. The Vikings created space within the Granite Bay backfield, but failed to pull the trigger on shots that seemed to be available, and then the extra man forward cost Oakmont on the back side as Gaschen’s individual effort put the game essentially on ice. With Kuresa running to a ball near the center line, along the Granite Bay sideline, Gaschen burst towards the ball and with a slide tackle, poked the ball away from the Oakmont defender. The Granite Bay all-time leading scorer quickly rose to his feet and carried the ball hard in the direction of Vargas and the Oakmont goal before flicking a perfect cross in front of the frame for Chapman, who volleyed it out of the air and into the netting. The assist was the 18th of the year for Gaschen, and with Hollingshead’s two assists on this night, the two now share the school record for most assists in a season. “I saw that ball coming out of the back and thought that it was my chance to make a play,” Gaschen said. “At moments like that I get an adrenaline rush and I knew I had to take advantage of that chance.” The Vikings brought incredible pressure on Schorer and his defensive mates for most of the final 10 minutes, but were unable to score again. Gaschen put the icing on his final high school game, stealing a ball and, with an Oakmont defender on his back, placing it into the corner of the goal for the last tally. The Vikings put out an amazing effort in their first trip to the playoffs since 2003, giving Granite Bay all that it could handle. “I am so proud of our guys,” Broers said. “We played well tonight and while we do not like losing the game, this was a good ending for us.” “Oakmont was the team in the playoff field that I was most afraid of,” Fischer said. “They play with great spirit and create breaks for themselves.” With so many juniors among its top players, Oakmont figures to be back in the mix next season, while the Grizzlies return a strong core of players as well despite the departure of a group of seniors who have now enjoyed a pair of section titles in their storied careers.