Manuel Pires reached another coaching milestone Friday, getting his 500th win as Sierra’s girls soccer coach with the top-seeded Timberwolves holding off visiting Beyer 3-2 in the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.
School administrators recognized the moment after the match, handing him a commutative banner that was later accompanied by a game ball signed by his players. Pires is in his 25th year as Sierra coach and is two wins away from a sixth section championship.
The Timberwolves (24-1) carry a 17-match winning streak to the semifinal round, which takes place next Tuesday against No. 4 Christian Brothers (12-6-5) back at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium. The Falcons clobbered No. 5 Ceres, 5-0.
“I thank God for allowing me to still be here and have the support I have to reach that number, but my whole focus was on this game,” Pires said.
Tiana Cello was involved in every scoring play for the Timberwolves, netting two goals and assisting Preeya Singh’s tally to bring her season points total to 102 (44 goals, 14 assists) — second behind El Capitan’s Anaya Shelton (107) in the SJS, according to MaxPreps.
Although Sierra was comfortably in control of the action throughout the second half, it wasn’t until Cello’s second goal — a textbook give-and-go with Jenna Villanueva — in the 75th minute that the Timberwolves were able sit comfortably with a late two-score lead.
“She and I combine really well together,” Cello said of her front-line partnership with Villanueva, the section’s third leading scorer with 73 points. “Throughout the season that’s a way we’ve been able to get between the lines efficiently.
“I played it to her feet and saw the defense was split, so I just made the run and she played a perfect ball through.”
They earlier had a similar combination play that ended with Cello drilling it wide left from close range. Sierra already had a one-goal lead at that point with Cello finding the upper-right corner in the eighth minute.
The speedy Singh was rewarded for her hard work nine minutes into the second half when she stripped a Beyer defender of the ball on the right wing. Singh centered it to Villanueva who then connected with Cello in the penalty box. The ball found its way back to a wide-open Singh for the second goal of the match.
The ninth-seeded Patriots (14-5-2) made things interesting during a second half otherwise dominated by Sierra.
Beyer was outshot 17-10 and benefitted from non-calls for its two goals. After a free kick near the left corner flag, Kayla Duenas took advantage of a clear handball from a teammate in the penalty box to score her goal in the 57th minute. That closed the Patriots in, 2-1.
Then in the final minute, Caroline Duenas converted a laser shot from the top of the 18 after receiving a negative pass from a teammate who got away with a push in the back that allowed her to win the ball on the end line.
“We played a very tough team that battled us until the end, and that’s what happens when you don’t capitalize on your chances,” Pires said.
Both goalkeepers came up with some big plays. Beyer’s Logan Kayser-Sprouse thwarted Cello’s first attempt of the match, tipping her long-distance bomb over the crossbar. She finished with five saves.
Sierra netminder Michaela Bitle had two reaction saves in the final seven minutes of the first half that preserved the Timberwolves’ one-goal lead, deflecting away one-touch attempts from Isabella Rodriguez and Ashlee Leonetti. Bitle ended with four stops.
“Those were huge (saves) to keep us ahead,” Pires said. “Michaela definitely did a good job by deflecting those balls out, and their goalie made a couple big saves as well. I thought both goalies played great tonight.”