What started out as an easy Tuesday afternoon for Merced goalkeeper Andrew Jaurique turned into a tense final 15 minutes.
A new-look Merced defense kept things comfortable for the senior in the first half, limiting his action to a few shots from distance, and picking off long passes from the Atwater attack.
Staked to a 1-0 lead, Merced even threatened to turn the game into a laugher with a flurry of chances about 10 minutes into the second half.
Freddy Hernandez's spinning rocket curled just wide.
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A minute later, William Gomez had his one-timer ring off of the post.
Albert Gonzalez followed that up with a wide-open strike from 25 yards that he couldn't get on net.
The squandered chances almost proved costly.
Atwater created a pair of breakaways in the last five minutes of the game, but Jaurique was up to the task.
He closed quickly on Atwater's AJ Blais to make a big save, and then forced Juan Madrigal wide of the goal, giving his defense time to recover and clear the ball.
Jaurique finished up with seven saves to earn the shutout and Merced walked away with a hard-fought 1-0 victory.
"I was hoping one of our shots was going to go in and give us some breathing room, but that's how it goes sometimes," Jaurique said. "The defense communicated great all game, and I was able to make some saves when we needed me to."
The loss was another frustrating afternoon for Atwater coach Jimmy Brewer, whose team has scored just one goal in the last four games and just twice so far in Central California Conference play.
Urgency in the attacking third has been the issue, with Atwater (0-3-1 Central California Conference) often dominating possession in the game.
Tuesday was no exception.
Merced (2-2 CCC, 8-5-1) opened the game on the attack, and got on the board quickly with Hernandez finding Gonzalez on the right wing in the 13th minute.
Gonzalez sidestepped a defender and beat Atwater goalkeeper Omar Fuentes with a chip to the far post.
Despite the fast start, Atwater took over the run of play for the final 20 minutes of the first half.
"It's been a problem that we need to learn to get past," Merced coach Jason Durbin said. "What happens is they move the ball around pretty well, start feeling good about themselves, and they get comfortable.
"Atwater is a team that's going to keep coming at you and fortunately we were able to stay organized at the back and hold them off."
Atwater's first meaningful chance on goal came in the 59th minute.
Cris Rosales fired a free kick from 19 yards out that took a deflection off of the the wall and struck the crossbar.
The near miss seemed to wake Atwater up.
Jaurique was a busy man for the next 20 minutes, but turned away all comers.
"If you look at the middle of the field, we look like we're doing great," Brewer said. "We've been dominating possession and creating decent build up.
"We just can't find anyone to get on the other end of a couple goals right now."
GOLDEN VALLEY 2, TURLOCK 1
Golden Valley erased an early deficit to hand Turlock its first CCC loss.
Jose Hernandez and Tony Figueroa each scored goals for GV (3-1, 8-3-4) and Gabe Jimenez made three saves.
BUHACH COLONY 1, PITMAN 0
ATWATER -- Jorge Torres scored a goal in the 10th minute to help Buhach Colony move to the top of the CCC standings with a victory over Pitman.
Christian Gonzalez made four saves for BC (3-0-1, 9-3-2) to earn the shutout.
MERCED 7, PPITMAN 2
TURLOCK -- Janet Xu, Harpinder Mann and Mai Xiong all secured singles victories to help keep Merced undefeated in CCC play.
The tandem of Lisa Rabago and Alexa Lawler had a 6-1, 6-1 doubles win for Merced (3-0 CCC).
MERCED 252, BUHACH COL. 329
ATWATER -- Molly Burns shot a 44 and Serina Castillo turned in a round of 50 as Merced cruised to a w in to improve to 3-1 in the CCC.
RIPON CHRISTIAN 3, LE GRAND 0
LE GRAND -- Ripon Christian was too strong, winning 25-2, 25-15, 25-13. Giuliana Marchini led Le Grand with two kills and an ace.