CCC soccer race wide open

slynch@mercedsunstar.comOctober 21, 2012 

The Central California Conference boys soccer title coming down to the final week of the season is nothing new.

A loss to Merced on the final day of the regular season last year denied Golden Valley its second straight crown and allowed Turlock to take the title.

But routinely tight as the CCC standings tend to be, none of the league's coaches can remember the last time five teams remained in the playoff and title hunt heading into the final week.

Four points separate first-place GV and Turlock and fifth-place Pitman.

"It's pretty interesting," Atwater coach Jimmy Brewer said. "It's exciting, but at the same time you keep trying to work out what you need to do to be one of the three.

"This year two good teams are staying home."

The Cougars' late charge has helped throw everything up for grabs.

Golden Valley opened league play just 1-4-3, but has run off five straight wins.

"We started out losing four of our first six, but we knew with all the injuries we had that if we got healthy, we could make a run," Cougars coach Lee Shaw said. "We fought our way back into it, now you just hope we can finish it off."

Turlock's 4-3 victory over Buhach Colony on Friday pulled them even with GV at 21 points. Atwater (5-3-5) is just off the pace with 20, while Merced (5-4-4) -- which started last week in first place -- is just out of the playoffs looking in with 19. Pitman (4-4-5) has faded since its fast start, but remains very much in the hunt with 17 points.

Golden Valley closes the season at home with Buhach today and then at Merced on Wednesday. Turlock will host Merced tonight before finishing at Pitman. Atwater has the easiest road on paper, hosting Pitman today and then finishing with rival Buhach.

"A lot can happen these last two days," Shaw said. "You can't look past anyone. You just have to focus in on your opponent and take care of what you can take care of.

"To win it all the kids are going to have to play hard, fight through injuries and then get a bit of luck."

The one thing everyone agrees on is whichever teams survive the final week will be more than battle-tested for the playoffs.

"It's one of the best parts of the competitive nature of our league," Brewer said. "You're playing meaningful games right until the last week.

"Last year we were the only league to have all three teams win their first game in the playoffs. We've represented ourselves well the last few years, and I expect that to continue."

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