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East Union falls short in SJS final
Ceres defender blasts go-ahead goal in 76th minute
Bulletin boys soccer 2018-19
East Union defender Gerardo Gallegos controls the ball in the air in front of Ceres’ Ivan Arita (4) and Hugo Mercado (11) in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III title match held at Ripon Christian on Thursday. - photo by GARY JENSEN/
RIPON — Thrilling finishes were nothing knew to East Union and Ceres going into the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship held at Ripon Christian on Thursday, so it was fitting for this one to be decided in the final minutes.
Defender Saul Ruiz capitalized on a good bounce following a free kick and delivered the game-winning goal for No. 2-seeded Ceres in the 76th minute, and the Bulldogs held on for the 2-1 victory that secured their second section crown.
“We just had an amazing game, no doubt about it,” East Union coach Ronnie Green said. “In the first half the boys demonstrated that we can play with anybody. In my mind, the game could have gone either way, it was just a matter of who got the one goal.”
The moment did not come for the No. 4 Lancers (20-7-2) this time. They started their postseason run with a 1-0 double-overtime win over No. 12 Valley, edged El Capitan in penalty kicks on the road and knocked off top-seeded Vista del Lago 1-0 in the semifinals.
“We’ve come a long way just for this,” said East Union forward Giovanni Padilla, who scored his team’s lone goal. “It’s really tough seeing all my teammates down. We put in all our effort, it just wasn’t on our side today.
“I’m so proud of all of them. We played with all our hearts.”
Ceres (20-1-4) was outplayed at the start but once again did well to bounce back from an early deficit. The Bulldogs came back to beat Sierra in PKs in their semifinal match after nipping Golden Valley via shootout in the second round.
“This wasn’t easy,” Ceres coach Danny Barragan said of his side’s road to the championship. “Tonight, East Union came out with high pressure and had more control than we did, but I have confidence in these guys. This is not the first time we’ve played (from behind). What makes this a strong team is that once we go down it’s only a matter of minutes that we score.”
That was the case in the opening half Thursday.
The Lancers threatened in a variety of ways, playing through balls for quick-striking opportunities while mixing in slower build-up from the back.
They finally broke through in the 34th minute.
Gerardo Gallegos controlled the ball for East Union after a Ceres defender cleared the ball away from the penalty box on a free kick. Gallegos sent the ball through the back line, and with Bulldogs players lobbying for an offsides Padilla sneaked in from the right side and slid it past goalie Leo Trujillo.
“We planned on pressuring them a lot, and the outcome of it was that goal,” Padilla said. “We just started slowing down after that.”
Four minutes later, Pablo Duran provided the equalizer for Ceres. Similar to the other goals, this one was set up by a deflection on a long free kick. Ivan Arita blasted the free kicks on both scoring plays for the Bulldogs.
“We try to avoid (relying on) the long ball,” Barragan said. “I like the game to look nice, but hey, you got to do what you got to do to win.”
East Union had the more aesthetically pleasing chances, especially in the second half. Padilla nearly came up with a second goal on a counter-attack but just missed the crossbar. The Lancers had another shot to go ahead in the 84th minute on a nifty play near the right corner.
Alex Arroyo bounced it hard off the turf on a throw-in, and a wide-open Jonathan Ponce lofted a high cross into the 6-yard box. German Gonzalez was there for the leaping header, but his connection dropped wide of the right post.
“We had some point-blank opportunities we could not finish, but I have no complaints,” Green said. “It wasn’t for a lack of heart, our players played 100 percent the whole way through and just came up a little bit short, unfortunately.”
The good news for East Union is its season isn’t over yet. All finalists in the SJS playoffs advance to the CIF State Northern California Regional Championships. Brackets will be released Sunday night.
East Union can get the ultimate prize after placing third in the Valley Oak League and second in the SJS Division III bracket.
“Our goal now is to win Regionals,” Green said. “And we have the team to do it.”