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Controversial end to EUs season
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It was sheer bliss for top-seeded East Union in one moment.
Then on the next, the Lancers were overcome by anger and agony.
Their season came to an end in controversial fashion in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III semifinals Tuesday when No. 5 Central Valley won a thrilling penalty kick shootout, 6-5. The two talented sides battled to a scoreless draw after 100 minutes of play in front of a lively crowd at Dino Cunial Field.
Erick Espindola iced it for visiting Hawks (20-6-3) after five rounds of PKs. Giovanni Ruelas missed wide left on East Union’s final attempt.
East Union keeper Enrique Garcia came up big in the shootout, but his second of two saves — he had four in regulation and overtime — was negated by the assistant referee. Garcia shuffled his feet and dove to his left to deflect Gerardo Flores’ shot, but the ref determined that the keeper jumped off the goal line prematurely.
East Union players rushed into the penalty box to celebrate with Garcia as the head official signaled the end of the game, but the assistant remained next to the goal with his flag raised.
“I don’t think I did,” a tear-eyed Garcia said. “I did the same thing for every PK, every single one of them.
“Everything I did was for my team. They pushed me and said that I could do it. I thought I did, I thought that we had the win. The ref took it away.”
Garcia’s earlier save in PKs kept East Union’s season alive for a few more minutes. Central Valley had the upper hand after Jesus Hurtado, the Lancers’ top scorer for the season, has his attempt blocked by Christian Gonzalez (eight saves). The Hawks led 4-4 when Angel Lopez teed up his game-winning try, but the diving Garcia was able to knock it away with his left hand.
“He’s our No. 1 PK (shooter),” Central Valley coach Omar Leon said. “When he missed you just thought, ‘Oh my God, everything just went down the drain.’”
Leon sympathized for East Union’s goalie after the game, embracing Garcia while offering words of encouragement.
“You don’t want to get to PKs,” Leon said. “It’s just unfair to lose like this, but somebody’s got to lose and somebody has to win.”
East Union (19-2-4) had plenty of chances to decide it before it came down to PKs. The Lancers were on Central Valley’s half of the field for the majority of the second half, held a 23-9 shot advantage overall and had more corner kicks, 6-2.
Victor Hurtado had East Union’s best chance to score in the first of two overtimes. Jacob Garcia set him up with a perfect cross from the left corner, and Hurtado, with only the keeper in front of him, sent a header wide left.
Central Valley did have nice looks on its fewer opportunities.  On the Hawks’ only attempt in the second half of regulation, Garcia swiped away Angel Lopez’s free kick. Garcia had another key save in the final minute of the first half, knocking Flores’ point-blank header over the crossbar.
“We won on the field and in the PKs,” Zelaya said. “(The referees) took it away from us. We’re the better team. Unfortunately, this happens.”
It was a sour finish to an otherwise sweet season for his Valley Oak League champion Lancers, who had a 23-game streak without a loss snapped Tuesday.
“It’s amazing how they came together,” Zelaya said. “In the first two or three weeks we worked so much on passing the ball, and now they pass the ball like they’ve been playing together forever. They’ve come so far.”
Central Valley is 0-4 in section finals and will look to snap the skid Saturday when the Hawks take on No. 3 Lincoln at Cosumnes Oaks. The Division III title game is scheduled to start at 2 p.m.
“I know that it’s like to be in this instance and I know what it’s to lose,” Leon said. “That’s the only game we haven’t won in 10 years.”