SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The memory of losing on penalty kicks in last year's state championship game provided the fuel for the returning Fresno City College players in 2017, who delivered the school's first-ever California Community College Men's Soccer Championship on Sunday morning at American River College with a 2-0 win over Taft College.
The Rams, who lost to Mt. San Antonio in last year's final before ousting the Mounties during Friday's semifinals, finished its season with an 18-1-6 record. Tournament MVP Johnny Rodriguez scored in the 13th minute to give Fresno a quick 1-0 lead while Matheus Araujo was good in the 74th for the second score.
"We lost in the final last year to Mt. SAC and I think maybe our sophomores thought that maybe (Sunday) was our time and day," said head coach Eric Solberg. "We played (Taft) 0-0 twice this year and we knew we needed to find a goal. We thought we could. We pressed higher today and did a little more offensive (pressure).
"And then you lean on your guy. Johnny Rodriguez might be the best player in the country at this level. He found one and then the second one kind of put the game away."
The Central Valley Conference rivals, who tied for the league title this season, were both coming off exciting semifinal wins on Friday; the Rams over Mt. SAC and Taft against Cerritos. It was the Rams who struck first on Sunday, however, as Rodriguez took a ball from 15 yards in the 13th minute and netted it to the left side for his 25th goal of the year.
Already trailing by a goal, Taft faced an even more uphill battle in the second half when the Cougars were issued a red card on a Fresno City breakaway that put the Cougars down a man the rest of the way. It took Fresno just six minutes to add to its lead as Araujo's shot from outside the box went to the right side of the goal.
The Rams kept the clamps on from there, setting off a wild celebration when the game came to an end.
"This my 19th year and my eighth trip (to the state championship tournament," said an emotional Solberg. "It's for all the dudes that didn't make it, especially for the group last year that didn't make it. It's something special that you take to your grave.
Brandon Garcia had six saves in goal for Taft while Andres Castrajon had two for the Rams. Rodriguez had four shots on goal to lead all players.
Fresno is the first Northern California region team to win a state championship since Hartnell in 2013 and just the second since Taft won its own title in 2007.