PASO ROBLES — The Paso Robles Bearcats boys soccer team started the year hot with six straight wins before stumbling a bit at the start of Mountain League. But they got back on track Friday night when they defeated the Pioneer Valley Panthers 2-2 in a penalty kick shootout.

The Bearcats opened their Mountain League season following the two-week holiday break with back-to-back difficult road matchups against Santa Maria (10-1-1) and San Luis Obispo (10-3-1) who have both been borderline unstoppable this year and battled them to the brink.

Paso Robles defensive back Owen Grandoli races up the sideline. (Photos by Connor Allen)

On Jan. 3 the boys traveled to Santa Maria to face a Saints team that through three games is yet to allow a goal in Mountain League play and lost a 1-0. Four days later, the boys traveled to San Luis Obispo to take on a Tigers team that is +32 in goal differential this season and took them to overtime before eventually losing. 

While the Bearcats certainly played the two top teams in the Mountain League to open the second half of their season, their path doesn’t get much easier going forward due to the fact that the league is stacked full of good teams this year.  In fact, all six teams in the league have a positive goal differential so far this season, according to Maxpreps.com, and all but one team (Righetti) have won 60 percent of their games. 

Paso Robles senior captain Jesus Rico Toscano heads the ball away from danger.

While the Saints and the Eagles currently sit tied atop the league with an unblemished 3-0  record, Arroyo Grande (8-6-2), Paso Robles (9-5-2) and Pioneer Valley (10-2-1) all have a shot at the title. But every game going forward will be absolutely crucial.
Friday night, the Bearcats hosted their league opener against red-hot Pioneer Valley and needed penalties kicks to decide a winner. 

Friday’s game was evenly matched but it was the Panthers who took the early lead and went into the half up 1-0. After the ten minute break, both teams came out aggressive and the intensity of the game spiked up about three notches. With each passing second, it rose just a little bit more. Not only was the energy evident on the field but also in the bleachers as parents and fans from both teams found themselves pleading with the officials even though the temperature was in the low 50s.

Paso senior Daniel Almaguer plays defense during the Bearcats victory on Friday.

After 40 minutes of largely scoreless soccer, the second half opened with a scoring frenzy. Senior captain and defensive anchor Jesus Rico Toscano knotted the game up at 1-1 just five minutes into the second half but a few minutes later the Panthers were back in front 2-1 on a goal that fired up the boys in crimson. On the ensuing kickoff, Jorge Sandoval demanded the ball, beat a defender and ripped a shot from nearly 35 yards out and buried it in the back of the net for the goal of the week.

After the three-goal outburst in just about 12 minutes, the scoring ceased. The two teams battled into the evening and through two 10-minute periods of scoreless overtime before it came down to penalty kicks where the Bearcats earned the victory.

Paso Robles is currently tied for second at 1-2 in the Mountain League and is in the midst of their longest homestand of the season where they will play four consecutive games from War Memorial. On Tuesday, the Bearcats will host the Righetti Warriors in another must-win game and will then host Arroyo Grande on Friday in a battle for sole possession of second place. Paso Robles will end their homestand with a rematch against Santa Maria on Jan. 21.

Getting through this together, Paso Robles