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EU star scores in VOL finale

Rivera scores in 71st minute to beat Buffaloes

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EU star scores in VOL finale

East Union star Isela Rivera puts a header on frame during Tuesday’s 1-0 victory over Manteca. Rivera would score the game-winning shot on a free kick in the 71st minute.

Photo by SEAN KAHLER/


POSTED April 30, 2014 12:51 a.m.

Isela Rivera missed on a back-post header, whiffed on a breakaway from the top of box and pushed a few other shots wide.

Who said the close ones were gimmies?

From a distance, though, Rivera was spectacular.

The San Jose State-bound senior hammered home a free kick in the 71st minute, sending East Union to a 1-0 victory over Manteca at Dino Cunial Field on Tuesday evening.

It was a fitting conclusion to the regular season for the Lancers, who rolled to the Valley Oak League championship and a No. 6 ranking in the state.

East Union (13-0-1, 15-0-1) is unbeaten in 16 games this season, and with the frosh-soph team’s 3-0 victory, the program finished 27-0-1 in league matches.

“We’re ready for the playoffs,” East Union coach Victor Polanco announced after the game, moments before he received a celebratory Gatorade bath.

The Lancers should be a No. 1 seed when the Sac-Joaquin Section playoff brackets are released. East Union stated its case with a signature goal from its star in her Valley Oak League finale.

“I knew she’d go on frame” with her shot, Polanco said.

The opportunity was created by Rivera’s younger sister Ilena Rivera, who was tripped to the turf during a knifing run through the Manteca defense.

The tackle yielded a yellow card – the Buffaloes’ only mistake in the second half – and Isela Rivera would make them pay with a rocket 25-yard shot.

“I’m a very passionate person and a very intense person. I know I’m going to get my shots, but my whole thing is I have to finish them,” Isela said. “Some won’t go in. Some might go wide of the goal. But at the end of the day, I know I’m going to get at least one in for my team.”

Instead of becoming frustrated by her misses, Isela used them to scout Burch, a tall, rangy goalkeeper. The fast-developing junior was good in the air, Isela reasoned, so her free kick would have to be driven low.

But to which corner?

“I had seen her dive before and didn’t think she’d dive to her left,” Isela said. “So my whole thing was ‘Bottom right, bottom right, bottom right.’

“As soon as I hit it and saw her standing there, I was like ‘That’s going in.’”

It did, kicking off a celebration that was equal parts joy and relief. The goal was Isela’s Valley Oak League-leading 25th of the season.

“It was an awesome feeling to finally score that goal after all this time ... after all those shots,” Isela said. “I did it for my siblings, my team and my coaches to prove why we’re No. 1.”

The goal interrupted a bounce-back performance by the Buffaloes, who played on their heels for the first 40 minutes. East Union attacked at will in the first half, ringing up an 11-1 shot advantage.

After about 15 minutes, East Union had more corner kicks (5) than Manteca had possessions in the offensive third.

“We knew they were a team you didn’t want to get into a shootout with,” Manteca coach Justin Coenenberg said, “but we played a little more defense in the first half than we wanted to.”

The overwhelming advantage mattered little, though.

Burch had four saves as Manteca weathered the barrage – and a few dicey breakdowns along the back line – to keep the game scoreless at the break.

Committed to a defensive stance in the first half, Coenenberg issued a new set of orders for the final 40 minutes: Attack.

With Fechi Nkowcha and Harleen Pabla playing with speed and fearlessness up top, and Lejla Pepic finding space in the midfield, Manteca softened the Lancer defense.

“Yes, our game plan was not to get into a shootout with them, but we challenged them at half to step up and put more pressure on them,” Coenenberg said. “We felt if we could get past their midfield, we could create some opportunity in our offensive third.”

Before long, the Buffaloes were creating chances.

Pabla sped away from East Union’s last defender in the 54th minute, but her 1-on-1 was broken up by a sliding Taylor Gray (two saves).

Two minutes later, Pepic’s shot from beyond the penalty box caught Gray off guard and off her goal line. The only question was whether it would stay between the pipes. It came close.

The shot glanced off the post, teasing a visitor’s sideline hoping for the upset.

Four minutes later, Isela was pure on her final attempt of the game. She has owned the Buffaloes during a standout three-year varsity career. Tuesday’s goal was her third of the season against Manteca and sixth for her career.

“It’s a little hard to swallow,” said Coenenberg, who shadowed the forward with two defenders.

Sierra 8, Weston Ranch 1

Seniors Sydnee Canales and Naomi Nunes had three goals apiece for the Timberwolves (7-5-1, 12-7-2), who round out their season on Thursday evening at Lathrop.

Freshman Kayleigh Doyle had two goals, while Annisty Miller, Kyndra Kiser and Marissa LaQuaglia each had two assists.

McKenna Doyle had a hat trick as the Timberwolves’ frosh-soph team rolled to a 4-0 victory.

Kimball 4, Lathrop 0

In Tracy, Stephanie Tran notched her 23rd goal of the season in a shutout victory over the Spartans (2-9-2, 5-13-3). Cassandra Flores had four saves in the loss.

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