COSTA MESA — It was a joyous celebration after the Pomona Elementary boys' fifth- and sixth-grade gold division team made history Sunday afternoon at the Daily Pilot Cup.
Family members made a huge human tunnel, one that stretched out to near midfield. The Pomona boys ran through it, before sprinting off to the awards ceremony.
How did it feel to be the first Pomona team to win a gold division title at the annual tournament? You could say it felt like a big accomplishment.
The biggest player on Pomona, sixth-grader Andy Martinez, certainly thought so.
"It makes us feel good," said Martinez, who stands 5-foot-7 and is husky. "It makes us feel like heroes. [We] changed history."
Martinez certainly stood tall. He scored twice as Pomona defeated Lincoln, 3-1, to win the title at Jack Hammett Sports Complex.
A couple of years ago, the players on Pomona might have played for the longtime powerhouse Rea Sharks. But last year Pomona added fourth, fifth and sixth grades, taking away from Rea's enrollment.
Now the two schools are rivals. Pomona blanked Rea, the nine-time division champion, 5-0, in a semifinal match earlier Sunday. Martinez had a hat trick, while Charly Segura and Eric Rosas also scored.
"They said they were going to beat us, 8-0," Pomona striker Sergio Gutierrez said. "They were telling us stuff on Facebook. I mean, what we did, we didn't say anything. The only thing we told them was, 'Just wait until the game and we'll see who wins.' It paid off."
The Panthers, who had all sixth-graders except for one player, could afford to let their play do the talking. Martinez, who had a "C" on his sleeve for a team captain, certainly helped. He scored 13 goals in Pomona's five games at the tournament, including at least two goals in every game.
In the very first minute of the title match, he had the assist instead. He fed Sergio Mondragon, who scored to give Pomona the early edge.
Lincoln, which was also searching for its first gold division title, did not back down. Far from it. Lincoln kept pressing ahead, with Parker Cohn, Kyle Mabwa and Jordan Pratt all making spirited runs toward the goal.
Lincoln did not allow a goal the rest of the half, and even scored the equalizer in the 44th minute of the 60-minute game. Paolo Carrillo's corner kick found the head of Mabwa, who headed the ball backward toward the left post. Taylor Martin was there to stick it in, tying the score and stunning Pomona.
Martinez responded, scoring on a breakaway five minutes later. He nearly scored again in the 51st minute, but Lincoln goalie J.T. Schwartz (six saves) came out to make a nice play, deflecting the ball out of bounds. Lincoln kept fighting, nearly tying the score again as Bobby Purcifull played the ball ahead to Pratt. But Pomona keeper Yonatan Lopez (four saves) was there.
"They played their hearts out," said Lincoln Coach Rich Cohn, whose team beat Mariners Christian, 2-0, in the semifinals. "They left everything on the field. They deserved to be in that final, and they tried their hardest. I had nine kids in tears at the end. They really wanted it."
Martinez, who plays club soccer for Slammers FC, was just too strong. He scored again struck on a header, giving Pomona an insurance goal. Pomona Coaches Christian Rivera (Newport Harbor) and Alex Plata (Estancia) and Alvin Salinas could almost taste the victory.
Last year, most of the players had tasted bitter defeat, losing to eventual finalist Whittier, 4-3, in the last minute of a fifth- and sixth-grade gold division quarterfinal match.
"I told these boys from day one, 'If you work hard then good things will happen,'" Rivera said. "We worked hard in training, and it all paid off. I said, 'I'll promise you guys, the hard work is going to pay off.' I never guaranteed a championship, but these boys, they worked hard and they deserved it."
Both Rivera and Plata went to Rea. But Plata went to Pomona first.
"Usually you grew from Pomona and then you went to Rea," Plata said. "That's what I did ... the best part is making history [for Pomona]. It makes me feel good. Usually, no one would never know. [It was] like, 'Who's Pomona?' They're the underdogs of Rea. They're always [overshadowed by] Rea. This time, we showed a different level."
Gerardo Pedroza, Jose Blanco, Javier Zamora and Pablo Martinez were the main defenders who helped out Pomona. Bryan Castellon, Eric Avonce (the team's fifth-grader), Manny Plata, Alonso Esquivel and Jorge Merida also contributed for Pomona.
Sergio Gutierrez, Segura and Manny Plata call themselves "The Three Musketeers." They've been good friends for years.
They'll probably remember Sunday's game for years down the road, too.
"Everybody's going to look up to us, all the little kids that want to play soccer in our school," Gutierrez said. "It feels good."