Strathmore downs Monache 2-1 with late goals

In the preseason Strathmore High School’s Enrique Gomez said he doesn’t score, but in the final minute of a tied boys soccer game at Monache, it was the senior’s free kick from 40 yards out that gave the Spartans a 2-1 comeback victory. 

The 6-foot-2 senior defender was due for a goal after several of his free kicks were on target but didn’t get past Monache’s defense for one reason or another. But once his game-winner went into the back left corner of the net, Gomez lifted his arms up in celebration. 

Strathmore (2-1-1) was playing from behind for nearly the entire game after Monache sophomore Favio Melgar caught Spartans defenders asleep and scored a close goal in the first 15 seconds of the game. 

“The first half, I think these kids just fell asleep,” SHS head coach Jimmy Madrigal said. “They fell asleep. We had a sloppy start, I told them. I told them, they’re going to come hard. They always do. [For] some reason we need something to happen, like a goal against us first, for these guys to wake up. Which sucks but I mean hey.”

For the rest of the first half the ball remained mostly with the Marauders’ offense while the Spartans’ forwards were left with few chances against MHS defenders, sophomore Anthony Valencia and senior Baltazar Estrada. Monache (0-5-3) had their own opportunities to score again in the first half but had a number of miscues that kept them from adding to their lead.

“Our defense was out of position and Monache was just sneaking in because our defense was just playing a shadow game,” Madrigal said. “Just follow Monache everywhere. And Monache did a good job moving. And they were moving without the ball, and made us move, which put a toll on our defense. Our defense was going crazy and then there’s a gap between our forwards and our defense. It was pretty bad. It was horrible but we adjusted. Our defense adjusted big time in the second half.”

It took Strathmore 68 minutes, but they finally got on the board when senior Damian Valencia made it past Monache defenders for the Spartans’ first goal. From then on Strathmore remained in control of the game. 

The Spartans are coming off the program’s best finish after losing in penalty kicks to Orange Cove in last season’s CIF Central Section Division VI championship game. They start 10 of their 11 returners and have a roster top-heavy with seniors, as well as underclassmen that are stepping up.

“It’s helping a lot,” Madrigal said about his seniors. “And at the same time there’s two players that I moved up from [junior varsity] barely last week, and those guys are stepping it up. They’re stepping it up and they’re in the process of maybe being starters, and one’s a freshman. They’ve been helping us out but the seniors are helping out because the experience with the young guys coming in, it’s showing them a lot.”

However the Spartans road back to a Valley title once again begins bumpy because just like last season, the Spartans aren’t able to practice or play at Spartan Stadium with the football team using the field as they make their way back to the CIF State finals. And with the weather and lack of refs, games have to either be rescheduled or cancelled, which is tough on an team in the East Sequoia League since the league added another team and bumped league play up a month earlier than last season.

Regardless of their circumstances this season, Strathmore knows teams are coming after them and it won’t be easy to repeat last season’s success.

“On paper, honestly like I tell the boys, we should be unbeatable but that doesn’t mean that we are,” Madrigal said. “... Other teams are hungry, they’re already ready for us. They know we have a squad, a team. So we know that the other teams know who Strathmore is and they’re not going to come soft. They’re going to come hard to try and eliminate the hard competition which is us.”

Strathmore’s next game is a rescheduled ESL-opener set for 6 p.m. at Corcoran while Monache heads to Lemoore for a tournament beginning Friday.