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CHS boys eliminated for Division-IV postseason tourney
Rafael Mercado and his Ceres High School varsity boys soccer teammates trudged off the muddy field at Bulldog Stadium.

A dejected Mercado sat on the ground and removed his cleats, shin guards and socks. The senior co-captain envisioned a different outcome for the game and rest of the season.

"I thought we were going to go all the way," Mercado said.

Ceres High, the Western Athletic Conference's No. 2 seed, lost 2-0 to Sierra, the Valley Oak League's second-best team, in the quarterfinals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs on Tuesday, Nov. 8 at Bulldog Stadium.

The Timberwolves grabbed a 1-0 lead early in the second half. Ceres High nearly scored an own goal. Sierra striker Nicholas Gonzalez capitalized on the defensive mistake.

Ceres High threatened multiple times on offense during the final 10 minutes.

Luis Corona's close-range shot was cleared by a Timberwolf defender.

Sierra goalkeeper Jason Angelo made a diving stop on Thomas Rochas' attempt.

Timberwolf Jaime Rivera put the game out of reach when he collected a pass from Gonzalez just before the end of regulation and finished from 10 yards away with his left foot.

"We had more opportunities scoring," Bulldogs head coach Koeurn Phe said. "We couldn't find the back of the net. The ball didn't bounce our way."

The Timberwolves exacted revenge.

Ceres High beat Sierra three times on its way to claiming the 2009 section crown. The Bulldogs blanked the Timberwolves 2-0 in the semifinals.

"They returned the favor this year," Phe said.

The Bulldogs mustered just four shots in the opening half against the Timberwolves last week.

"We couldn't do nothing today," Mercado said. "I'm really mad. I expected us to win. They shut us up."

"I didn't see the same intensity as when we played Central Valley," said Huberto Luna, Ceres High's other senior captain. "I don't know what happened. Honestly, it's really frustrating. We could have won the game. They cut our season short."

A week earlier, Ceres High upset crosstown-rival Central Valley 2-1 and locked up a playoff berth on the final day of the WAC season.

The Bulldogs qualified for the playoffs for the fourth year in a row, posted a 13-6-1 overall record and split with Central Valley en route to a runner-up finish in league (9-3).

Ceres High beat VOL champion East Union 3-2 during the preseason.

The Bulldogs played shorthanded during their final four games.

"It would have been different if we were at full-strength," said Phe, who lost three key starters to grades. "I'm still proud of the kids. I'm not disappointed with the effort. They showed a lot of heart."

Ceres High failed in its quest to capture its second section title in three years.The Bulldogs shut out Central Valley 2-0 in 2009. Ceres High lost 5-4 in a dramatic penalty-kick shootout to River City in the 2008 finals.