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Sierra calls up 7 underclassmen; falls to Pitman

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Sierra captain Daisy Rivera (3) controls the ball down the pitch Thursday night as the T’Wolves suffered a 3-1 loss against the visiting Pride at Sierra High.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin/

POSTED March 7, 2014 12:44 a.m.

There were moments of brilliance and keep-away possession – the hallmarks of the Sierra girls soccer program.

Like the deft 1-2 connection between Daisy Rivera and Jessica Cuenca in the first half, turning a bottled-up play in traffic into a sprint down the right wing.

Or Sydnee Canales’ 50-yard charge off a restart that left not one, not two, but three defenders head spun.

Canales tip-toed the end line, drawing the eyes of the goalie and the defense, before sliding a pass to Kaleigh Doyle for Sierra’s only goal in a 3-1 loss to Pitman on  Thursday evening.

However, those moments were offset by plays apropos of a team this young, a team with this many underclassmen. Rushed passes. Giveaways. And breakdowns along the backline.

Collectively, they were enough to unravel a match the Timberwolves dominated from the outset. Katie Hanf scored twice and Rayana Plancarte added an insurance goal late as Pitman slowly pulled away in the second half.

With Valley Oak League play  and the Vern Gebhardt Cup looming next week, Sierra (1-1-1) is winless in its last two games. The results have been exacerbated by a thinning bench.

On Thursday, three Timberwolves were sidelined with either an injury or illness, including forward Naomi Nunis who is close to returning from a knee surgery.

Head coach Manuel Pires isn’t panicking. Though he hasn’t had a roster this young in a number of years, he says there is a reason why seven underclassmen have been cast in leading roles this spring.

They belong.

On Thursday, three freshmen found their way into the starting lineup, including Doyle, defender Brooke McKenzie and midfielder Kyndra Kiser.

“The opportunity was there to bring up these young players. Those were the players we saw that could come in and help build this program back up to where we want it to be,” Pires said. “We saw some positive things, but when you have so many young players it takes time to build a team.”

Keeping their confidence will be key, especially as they adjust to the speed and physicality of the Valley Oak League’s varsity game.

“The last two games we’ve played two very strong teams back to back. There were some good moments. I saw some good possession and decision-making. There were some good opportunities that we just couldn’t put in.

“I’m always confident in my team. The thing is they have to believe in themselves. That’s the challenge: They can’t let the bumps in the game get them down. They have to bounce back.”

They showed resolve and fight on Thursday.

Doyle had a chance to draw the game even at 1-1 in the 53rd minute, but sailed a penalty kick over the crossbar.

Canales praised her teammate for shaking off the miss and capitalizing on her next scoring chance in the 78th minute.

“The biggest thing for us is that we don’t stop and we play with heart until the last minute of the game,” Canales said. “It happens. You miss PKs, but it’s how you bounce back that really matters.”

Reinforcements are coming. Pires said Nunis could see limited minutes next week when the schedule takes on a playoff vibe. Sierra travels to Tracy on Monday, opens VOL play against Oakdale on Wednesday and then dives straight into the Vern Gebhardt Cup with Livermore Valley Prep on Friday.

Nunis should help the Timberwolves improve on Thursday’s punchless attack. Sierra mustered just two shots on frame, despite dominating the run of play.

“We’re hopeful we get her back soon,” Pires said of Nunis, who had nine goals in just 11 matches last spring. “She’ll probably be able to play next week. We’ll bring her in slowly. She’s going to be a big asset for us.”

Bear Creek 2, Lathrop 0

The Spartans (2-1-1) suffered their first loss despite attempting 18 shots on goal. The Bruins (2-1) scored twice in the first 15 minutes of the second half. Junior goalkeeper Cassandra Flores finished with 13 saves for Lathrop.

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