Oakmont survives against Rocklin in exciting section semifinal

Vikings advance after PK shootout
By: Kurt Johnson, Press-Tribune sports editor
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A team game reduced to one-on-one, shooter vs. goalkeeper. It still does not seem like the best way to decide the winner in a playoff game, but the Oakmont High School soccer team will take it. After 100 minutes of thrilling, yet scoreless soccer, the Vikings outscored Rocklin 4-2 in a penalty kick shootout Wednesday night to advance to the finals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs. The length of the battle was no surprise to the participants or to anyone familiar with Sierra Foothill League soccer, as these two familiar foes have now played 420 minutes of soccer over the past two seasons (that is five full games plus two ten-minute overtime periods) with just one goal being scored in the run of play. In the first game of a semifinal doubleheader inside Prairie City Stadium at Folsom High School, Oakmont survived a relentless attack from the Thunder and lived to out-kick Rocklin from 12 yards out behind a pair of strong saves by goalie Brandon Vargas. “It was a tough way to lose,” Rocklin coach Grant Depue said. “We feel like we controlled the play for much of the night, but we just missed on the scoring chances we were able to create.” The Thunder controlled the pace of play early, as Oakmont struggled in matching up with the Rocklin attackers. The Vikings were fortunate as Rocklin’s Konner Rasmussen, Tyler Garrison and Steven Cowan all barely missed the frame on early shots on goal. “We went back to a four-back system today after using three backs in prior games against Rocklin,” Oakmont coach Mark Broers said. “They (Rocklin) do a really good job of attacking with their outside midfielders and trusting the defense to their back line.” The final 25 minutes before intermission were played evenly, as the squads traded scoring opportunities. Oakmont was unable to generate good shots off of a number of forays into the Rocklin defensive zone, and the Vikings just missed on one chance when junior forward Robert Work’s volley from 20 yards out sailed just wide of the post. Neither keeper was tested heavily during the first 40 minutes when all of the dangerous shot attempts failed to find the area between the pipes, but defenses were forced to stifle runs into their most precious real estate. Oakmont did most of its damage in counterattack mode, banging longer balls from back line to front, bypassing much of the midfield passing game. Rocklin sought to be more patient in moving the ball forward, carrying it through the midfield and looking for opportunities using through-balls to create its chances. Most of the Thunder’s most legitimate scoring chances came on game restarts in the scoring zone. Throw-ins, corner kicks and free kicks all put Rocklin in position to break the deadlock, but the Thunder could not convert. While there were mistakes on its part contributing to the missed chances, significant credit must go to Oakmont’s defensive effort, led by a sensational performance by sweeper Tyler Kuresa. The junior defender was very active for the Vikings and was particularly effective at using his height advantage over the Rocklin attackers to win balls in the air. The second half was well played in both directions, with most of the action taking place between the 18-yard marker at the top of the penalty areas. Both teams missed scoring chances early in the second half before the game settled into a frenetic back and forth pace. Oakmont worked its attacking runs through its junior tandem up top as Cole Alexander and Robert Work kept the pressure on the Thunder backs. Rocklin sweeper J.J. Barnette was outstanding all night long, and received considerable support from his back line mates Conor Delaney, Steven Cowan and Scotty Moller. Moller’s play was of particular significance for the Thunder, as he held his own while playing on the right side in place of injured starter Mike Gutierrez. The battle for control of the midfield was hotly contested all night long as Rocklin’s Tyler Garrison, Zach Moss and Justin Soria stared down Oakmont’s Kody Duff, Brett Alexander and Roy Pedro. The closest anyone game to scoring came on a rebound that found its way toward the far post of the Oakmont goal with about ten minutes to play, but Vargas was quick to get across the goal mouth and turned away the chance with a diving save. The 0-0 score after 80 minutes of play led to a pair of 10-minute overtime periods. With the physical play heating up during the extra sessions, the referee let the players go, eschewing heavy use of the whistle and allowing the participants to decide the outcome between the lines. The overtime periods were largely exchanges of balls in the middle of the field, with occasional hard runs at the opposing defenders on each end, but few real scoring chances. The Thunder whiffed on a chance to win the game prior to the shootout, when a strong cross passed through the Oakmont defense to a wide-open Moss at the back post, but the senior midfielder came up short in his attempt to touch the ball into the open net. The Vikings delivered in consistent fashion in the shootout, with four consecutive shooters burying the ball in the corner of the net to the right side of Rocklin goalie Zach Kammerer, while Vargas turned aside two Rocklin shot, one to his right and then one to his left side. “I am happy we have been practicing penalty kicks since the day we reached the playoffs,” Broers said. “We buried those four shots with confidence and Brandon (Vargas) was outstanding in goal for us.” Rocklin’s Barnette was first to shoot, and buried a powerful blast in the twine to Vargas’ right side. Pedro answered for Oakmont, leveling the competition at 1-1. Cowan opened the second round and appeared to take a little pace off of his shot as he placed it towards the right corner, where Vargas’ dive put him in position to reject the shot, and after Oakmont’s Brent Lewis ripped his shot into the waiting net the Vikings led 2-1. Delaney saw his shot turned back by Vargas just ahead of Duff’s shot on target that increased the advantage to 3-1, leaving Rocklin no margin for error. “Their goalkeeper made the plays,” Depue said. “He guessed right and got himself to the correct side of the goal to make those two big saves.” After Soria kept the Thunder alive with a blast to the right of Vargas, Work delivered the final nail for Oakmont with a rocket past Kammerer’s right side for the game-winner. The loss ends Rocklin’s spectacular season short of its goal of a repeat section championship. “These are great kids and it has been a pleasure to coach this senior class,” said Depue, in his first year at the helm in Rocklin. “I had these kids as freshman in my first year working with the JV and I enjoyed being with them as they close out their careers at Rocklin High.” The Vikings move on to a section final matchup with SFL champion Granite Bay, a 3-0 winner over Christian Brothers in Wednesday’s nightcap. “We know we have our hands full in the next one,” Broers said. “Granite Bay is great on the ball and brings a strong ball control passing game. We gave them a great battle the last time we saw them, so hopefully we can build on that.” The all-SFL section final kicks off at 4 p.m. Saturday in Folsom.