WATERMAN — The Mendota soccer team finally started listening to first-year coach Chawn Huffaker.
And it paid off big time.
The No. 2-seeded Trojans exploded for six second-half goals Wednesday to beat No. 3-seeded Paw Paw 7-0 in a Class 1A Indian Creek Regional semifinal.
“(We started) listening to what coach tells us — running down the line then crossing back in,” MHS senior Rafael Maldonado said. “We scored pretty much every time off those.”
Huffaker has been preaching the strategy all season, but the Trojans finally gained a sense of urgency about it Wednesday in their postseason opener.
“We’ve been working on it all season. It’s just we haven’t really listened,” said Maldonado, who scored Mendota’s first two goals. “We started listening more, then we started shooting more and getting more goals.
“(We started to listen) because it’s getting close to the end. It’s do or die. It could be our last game. You never know so you just have to go all out.”
Maldonado put the Trojans (9-7-5) on the board in the 32nd minute when he took a pass from Tony Escatel and deposited it into the net.
“(Escatel) went down the line, I saw him with two defenders, I told him to cross it and I just took the shot inside the box,” Maldonado said.
Despite several scoring chances before and after Maldonado’s goal, the Trojans went into the half up only 1-0.
“I thought we came out in the first half a little bit hesitant,” Huffaker said. “We pushed the ball. We attacked but we attacked outside the box. We controlled the 50-50s. Like I told them at half, we played fine. Just fine.
“In the second half, we came out and we started attacking. We started to get the ball into the box. We started sending it back up to the top and things started falling into place. I’ve been preaching that to them since Day 1 of practice, and it finally clicked for them.”
Maldonado scored again 6:09 into the second half on an assist from Isay Angulo, which sparked the Trojans to three goals in the first 11:49 of the second half.
Javier Rosales scored nine minutes into the second half, and 2:49 later, Nick Phalen extended Mendota’s lead to 4-0.
Angulo, Cody Husband and Brock Sutton each added a goal for the Trojans, who advance to face No. 1-seeded Earlville-Leland (13-8-1) at 4 p.m. Friday in the regional final.
“We’ve been working very hard for this, and we hope to come out with a win and go to sectionals (in Mendota) next week,” Maldonado said.
The Red Raiders beat the Trojans 2-1 on Sept. 13.
“I expect a high energy game,” Huffaker said. “I think they got a wake-up call (Tuesday) with Indian Creek (when E-L won 1-0 in overtime). We played them at their place in the pouring down rain. It was 2-1, but it very well could have been 1-1 or 0-0. It was just one of those games where you never know what’s going to happen and they came out on top.”
Huffaker said he hopes having a healthy roster will help the Trojans.
“The last time we played them we didn’t have a full squad,” Huffaker said. “We went through the better part of the season with a lot of injuries. We finally have everybody back. There’s a couple players we have who Earlville hasn’t even seen. I’m hoping they can step up.”
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.