Boys soccer: Tigers open playoffs with wild shootout victory

Tokay coach Ruben Gomez talks to his players during halftime of Tuesday's 1-1 (4-3) shootout victory over Davis at Hubbard Field. Gomez is retiring at the end of the season. Feb. 18, 2020

This is usually about the time that sportswriters look back at the previous year and recount all the awesome games the local area had to offer. All the feats, all the battles, the defeats and triumphs.

This one will be a little shorter. That whole not-being-able-to-play-for-nine-months-because-people-are-dying thing kind of put a damper on the high school sports world.

That said, there were some memorable moments in the first quarter of the year as the winter sports just got their seasons in before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

On the soccer field, Tokay High sent off longtime coach Ruben Gomez with one of the best seasons in his 33 years at the helm of the program, with a 14-4-3 record and a Tri-City Athletic League championship. The Tigers made it all the way to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship game, which saw a 1-0 overtime loss to Jesuit.

No other soccer or basketball team from either Lodi or Tokay made the section playoffs.

As Ruben Gomez rode off into the sunset, his assistant, Erick Gomez, was named to take over the helm.

“We have a big task in front of us,” Santoyo said. “Ruben left a big gap to fill going to the section championship and the quarterfinals of the regional for the first time in history.”

In Galt, the teams had more regular-season success, including two championship game appearances. The Galt High boys soccer team went 22-3-1, with a 2-0 loss to East Union in the Division III championship game.

On the basketball court, Liberty Ranch’s boys squad, with senior Jalen Patterson becoming the section’s No. 2 all-time leading scorer in January, made it to the SJS D4 championship after an up-and-down season, losing 50-57 to Sonora. The Hawks finished the season with an 18-15 record.

Patterson was named the Sierra Valley Conference’s MVP as well as All-State, and later signed to play for Arizona Western College in Yuma, Ariz.

The Liberty Ranch girls hoops team went 12-14 with a first-round playoff exit, while the Galt girls hoops squad had its first winning season in a while, going 19-11 with a playoff win over Marysville and a second-round loss to Argonaut.

On the soccer pitch, Galt and Liberty Ranch’s boys programs again saw success, with the Hawks falling in the second round of the D4 playoffs to Livingston to finish 13-8, and the Warriors going to the D3 title game, a 2-0 loss to East Union, to finish 22-3-1. Liberty Ranch’s girls squad went 11-9-1 and saw a first-round playoff exit.

In wrestling, Tokay’s Cassidy Curtiss earned a seventh-place finish at the CIF State Girls Wrestling Championship, pinning Woodcreek’s Kyle-Ann Bobo in the seventh-place match.

Spring sports started off strong, and the athletes went into Spring Break expecting to get back to school and competition upon their return.

But students did not return to school, or to sports competition. The fabric of society changed during Lodi Unified’s two-week break.

On March 11, the Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder were minutes away from tip-off when officials stopped the game due to a positive COVID-19 test among the players, later found to be Utah’s Rudy Gobert. Within hours, NBA commissioner Adam Silver indefinitely suspended the season. While some games that night finished, the Kings’ contest against the New Orleans Pelicans was canceled because one of the referees had worked a Jazz game earlier in the week.

The following day, the NHL suspended its season. Major League Baseball soon followed suit.

The California Interscholastic Federation and the Sac-Joaquin Section canceled all spring championships, and school districts across the state, under guidance from county and state health officials, began canceling spring seasons.

Then it became a waiting game. While other states brought back high school sports, with varying levels of success, California did not.

Over the summer, sports teams were able to get together for conditioning workouts, and that’s where things remain at the end of the year. Return plans keep getting pushed back, and the SJS planned a two-season 2020-21 school season starting in the beginning of January, but the California Department of Public Health has pushed back the date of first competition to Jan. 21. That plan will be revisited in the next week.

So here’s hoping things return to normal enough for high school sports to return in 2021.

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