Jessica Cuenca thought she had blown it for her team.
She was presented a gem of an opportunity to bury a heroic game-tying goal in the final minute of Sierra’s pivotal Valley Oak League girls soccer game at Manteca High Wednesday. Megan Gonsalves broke away up the middle and delivered a well-timed pass to the right.
Cuenca, with still room between herself and Manteca keeper Jimi Guibor, shanked it wide and high of her target, taking the shot from the top of the penalty box.
Lo and behold, Cuenca was given a second chance on a similar play during the final seconds.
“It was meant to be I guess,” she said.
This time, she delivered.
Cuenca, who could have been offsides when Naomi Nunis dished it off to her, carried the ball into the goal area blasted it past Guibor.
The game was called immediately after the midfield kickoff.
Manteca 1, Sierra 1. Two Cuencas scored in this crosstown battle. Jessica’s older sister, Esmeralda, a junior, scored in the 30th minute for Manteca (6-1-2, 12-4-3 overall).
It was yet another draw between two evenly-matched clubs that find themselves dropping further away from first-place East Union. Manteca and Sierra (4-3-2, 8-5-4) battled to a scoreless tie on March 21.
“We have good teams that are similar in style — both are very strong defensively but have, at times, struggled to score throughout the year,” said Manteca coach Justin Coenenberg. “That’s why our two games were great games.”
While the first meeting was more of a showcase of strong defenses in which shots were at a premium, the rematch featured far more scoring chances.
The tone was set at the start. In the opening minute, Chenayi Tavaziva rifled a point-blank attempt directly to Sierra goalie Lia Unterholzner. Sierra answered with its first try just moments later, as Nunis sent a head ball to Guibor.
Sierra outshot the Buffaloes, 15-11 (8-7 on goal). Guibor collected seven saves, and Unterholzner finished with six.
“We made some changes offensively and looked to get more players involved, and I think Manuel (Pires, Sierra’s coach) did as well,” Coenenberg said. “There was definitely more action on the offensive thirds, but both teams have great defenses and great goalies.”
Both sides had reason to feel that they let one get away, but the Timberwolves certainly left Guss Schmiedt Field blowing out a sigh of relief.
“It’s a point (in the standings),” Pires said. “At the end of the season that might be what we need to get into the playoffs. Who knows? It’s important that we grab points from these games.”
Manteca is solidly in second place while Sierra is locked in a three-way struggle with Kimball and Oakdale for one of the three Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoff spots.
Kimball hosts Manteca for a makeup match Friday, then Sierra next Monday.
The Buffaloes aren’t in the clear yet five games remaining.
“Not by any means with this league being so competitive,” Coenenberg said. “We still have some tough games coming up. We have Kimball this Friday, we go up to Sonora, then finish up with Oakdale and East Union. There is still a lot of soccer left to be played.”
East Union 8, Weston Ranch 0
The Lancers (9-0, 15-1-2) had little trouble dispatching the winless Cougars (0-9-1, 0-14-2).
Regina Dias and Alexandra Lecce each accounted for two goals, while Isela Rivera scored one and assisted two. Scoring one apiece were Megan Wallace, Stephanee Sabala and Kianna Lamont.
East Union 7, Weston Ranch 0
Alivia Lemay fired a hat trick to pace East Union. Claudia Arevalo added two goals, while Cely Vazquez and Madison Ysalva each contributed a goal and an assist.