By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Despite Santa Rosa JC’s less-than-stellar performance Friday, the Bear Cubs retained their firm grasp on first place in the Big Eight Conference with three games to go.
In a rematch with conference foe Modesto (9-4-4, 2-1-2), the host Bear Cubs (12-2-2, 4-0-1) played the Pirates to a 0-0 draw in a game with very few prime scoring opportunities on either side. SRJC won 3-0 at Modesto in the first meeting, but the rematch was a true stalemate as far as ball possession and offensive effectiveness.
“We didn’t play well. I think we took them lightly because we beat them last time. They dominated us in the air,” SRJC coach Marty Kinahan said. “It was a tie but it feels like a loss because it was a game we could have had. This is a little bit of a wake-up call. We have to play better, especially at home.”
Even so, unless the Bear Cubs collapse in the final three games, they will likely be seeded in the NorCal Regional playoffs.
“I think we might see Modesto again in the playoffs,” Kinahan said. “That would be nice so we would be hungry the third time we play them.”
Friday’s contest was a defensive struggle from the outset with neither team getting a clear-cut scoring opportunity in the first half. In the closing minutes of the second half, Santa Rosa forward Ikaika Matas nearly converted on two separate scoring opportunities.
In the 85th minute, Matas booted a 16-yard rocket that was knocked over the crossbar by leaping Modesto goalie Alonso Lara. Two minutes later Matas sent another laser shot just wide of the left post.
“That went right past the post by inches,” Lara said. “Our defense played strong today. Santa Rosa is an attacking team.”
In the previous meeting, the Bear Cubs took advantage of breakdowns in the Pirates defensive end for goals. No such occurrence in the rematch.
“Last time we had three errors in the backfield and they scored three goals,” Lara said. “We didn’t have any errors in the back today.”
The Bear Cubs had eight shots on goal but only the two late Matas shots stopped by Lara — the Big Eight goalie of the year last season — were real threats.
“Their goalie (Lara) is exceptional. He is the best goalie in the league,” Kinahan said. “He has a presence that is amazing.”
Modesto had five shots on goal but none were close against Bear Cubs goalkeeper Christopher Kelly.
“Santa Rosa is very organized (defensively),” Modesto coach Joe Michelena said. “We didn’t have the opportunities we needed.”
The clean-sheet result by SRJC’s defense was not equaled by an offensive attack that struggled. Kinahan said he was not happy with his team’s performance.
“We had a really poor practice yesterday and it carried over to today,” he said. “We didn’t play well. It seemed like we never got started. We had no continuity. We were just stagnant (offensively). There was no creativity.”
Perhaps the real highlight of the day was watching 48-year-old Modesto midfielder Jeff Michelena, the coach’s brother, keep pace for 90 minutes with players less than half his age.
“I’m tired, but it comes with the position,” Jeff Michelena said. “I’m like a coach out on the field when I’m out there. The younger guys have bought into me playing.”
The middle-aged Michelena said he had a chance 30 years ago to play at Modesto but couldn’t due to other obligations. When the opportunity to play for the Pirates came up again, he seized it.
“I am having fun with it and I’m glad to be able to play at this level,” he said.
Said Kinahan of Michelena’s effort: “He did fabulous. That’s awesome and impressive.”