Written by Jess Gonzalez
December 16, 2023 – Had it been a boxing match, it may have been one of the legendary championship fights that took place in New York’s old and steamy-hot Madison Square Garden in the 1940’s, 50’s, or 60’s .
It had the drama, passion, sweat, aggressiveness, and missed scoring opportunities of two win-hungry gladiators giving it their all to win a championship. But, instead of the fabled New York arena, the venue was Clovis High School’s chilly Lamonica Stadium last Saturday afternoon and it was the action-filled and tension-thick championship game of the 15th Annual Powerade Showcase.
It featured the last two teams still standing in the Blue Bracket—perhaps the highest rated of the three in which games were played. It was the tournament host Clovis High School Cougars against the Fresno based Central High School Grizzlies.
The two Central Valley soccer heavyweights went toe-to-toe in both the afternoon twilight and early evening darkness. Yet, over a span of two 40-minute regulation periods, plus two 5-minute overtimes, neither team was able to direct a kick that could find the back of their rival’s net. Being the tournament championship, the game could not end in a tie. So, the whistle-happy officials moved the match to the penalty kicks phase. It was there that Clovis, an experienced team that includes 16 seniors of which 6 are starters, was finally able to subdue the Grizzlies to claim the championship trophy with a 4-2 penalty kicks victory. But it was not easy.
As the second team to shoot, Central twice tied Clovis after three shots. The score was deadlocked at 2 goals apiece heading into the fourth shot of the climaxing shootout. Clovis, behind Aaron Huerta, then scored their third goal in four attempts to take a 3-2 lead.
That’s when the quick and talented Clovis goalie, Niles West, stepped into the limelight. As the fourth Central kicker placed his shot in a seemingly unreachable spot, Niles dove to this right to reject the wicked knee-level line drive. What seemed like a sure goal a milli-second earlier saw the ball bounce harmlessly back on to the field.
In the stands, an immediate wild reaction erupted from Clovis fans sensing an imminent victory. On the field Niles, feeling a rush of adrenalin due to his super effort, got quickly to his feet, and excitedly jumped up and down in front of the goal. But it was not over.
With a 3-2 lead and only one kick remaining for each team, Jonah Negrete, the fifth Clovis kicker, walked calmly to the sweet spot 12 yards in front of the waiting goal. He meticulously rotated the ball around till he grounded it to his liking.
After taking a deep breath, he took several quick short steps, planted his left foot on the turf, extended his right leg toward the ball and, with an impacting thud, his foot delivered a booming kick to the top left corner of the net. It was over. Central would not get a fifth shot. At once, a loud horn blared and the scoreboard flashed the final outcome–Clovis 4, Central 2. Clovis had its fifth tournament championship trophy!
The Powerade Showcase had again lived up to its history. It started in 2009 and featured teams from our Central Valley as well as from Southern California and the Central Coast region.
A total of 22 teams participated in three brackets with games over three days. Besides Clovis, other bracket winners were Santa Maria in the Gold Bracket, with a 2-1 victory over Clovis West, and Fresno High, a 2-1 winner over Tulare Western in the White Bracket.
Central qualified for the Blue Bracket final after a 0-0 tie with Merced’s Golden Valley High School and victories of 2-1 over Paso Robles and 2-1 over Santa Ana.
Clovis, who came into the tournament with a glittery 9-1-1 record, made the Blue Bracket final after pulling out a last minute 1-0 victory over Watsonville’s Pajaro Valley High, plus an 8-0 win over Tulare’s Golden Oak, and a 2-0 victory over San Luis High from Los Banos.
The Cougars proved to be a bad tournament host. Relying on a stingy defense, they shutout their visiting rivals over the course of regulation play in all four of its games. The only two goals scored against them were in the deciding penalty phase of the tournament final. Clovis is now 13-1-1 for the season.
The Cougars of Coach Daniel Amparano had the upper hand in most of the championship game. However, both teams wasted scoring opportunities that would have negated the overtimes and the penalty kicks phase.
The game was played before “maybe” 100 vocal, passionate, and divided partisan spectators. They braved the cold at Lamonica Stadium, but were rewarded with an exciting, highly entertaining, and drama-filled contest replete with skill, speed, and a strong will to win. It’s a shame more spectators did not find their way to Lamonica Stadium to witness high school soccer at its best. Both teams deserved more community support.
Let us be clear—there is no “minor” in describing soccer as a sport. It is the world’s most popular sport. As Saturday’s game again proved—among many other things—it’s exciting, fuels passion, and is edge-of-the-chair dramatic!