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Bullfrogs In Sight Varsity Bruins Battle Way Into Soccer Postseason
Bret Harte High's sterling 14-0-1 record in the Mother Lode League and Riverbank's 6-6 battle through the Trans-Valley League makes next week's Sac-Joaquin Section Division V playoff soccer game seem like a one-sided affair - on paper.

But as Bruin soccer coach Martin Gonzalez will tell you, records mean nothing when two teams step onto the pitch for a shot at postseason glory.

And if anyone knows a thing or two about the postseason, it's Gonzalez. The Bruin coach has seen Riverbank nab playoff appearances in each of the last seven seasons, and expects his team to give the MLL champions all they handle in Tuesday's 3 p.m. showdown in Angels Camp, Nov. 9.

"It's a new season now, and all the things that we have endured to make the playoffs is all over," Gonzales said. "Now it's win or go home, and we have our own destiny in our hands."

Nothing could have better prepared Riverbank for tough postseason games than the 12 regular season ones they played against some of the top small school programs in the area.

Hilmar (11-1), Hughson (7-4-1), Escalon (5-5-2), Orestimba (5-5-2) and Ripon (4-5-3) made league play more and more interesting each week. When the dust cleared, Riverbank's six wins proved enough to land one more league point than both Escalon and Orestimba.

It's the type of battle that Bret Harte never saw in a conference where teams went 7-11-3 against non-league opponents.

"Our league is probably one of the toughest at our level," Gonzales said. "We were lucky to get into the playoffs after some hiccups in league play, but I'm calling us the dark horse of this bracket. I won't be surprised to see us all of a sudden playing in the semis, and hopefully in the section championship game."

Bret Harte has outscored opponents by a 67-33 margin this year, with 31 scores coming from 5 foot, 6 inch junior Freddy Barboza.

Riverbank is led by a talented cast that includes senior Hugo Yepez, senior Carlos Harvey, junior Carlos Jimenez and sophomore goalkeeper Rafael Ramirez.

Yepez scored twice in a 5-1 win over playoff-bound Hughson on Oct. 28. Harvey, Jonathan Rodriguez (assist) and Jonathan Solano also found the net, while Ramirez stopped eight Huskies shots within the frame.

Bret Harte is rolling from a 3-0 win over Summerville on the same day, and topped MLL runner-up, Amador, by a 4-1 score on Oct. 26.

If Riverbank gets past Bret Harte, they will travel to either Hughson or Golden Empire League champ, Dixon, on Nov. 11. The winner of that game sees a SJS championship game on Nov. 13.

The Bruins will prepare for Bret Harte on the field and also share a pasta dinner at coach Gonzales' house on Monday night.