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Late comeback clinches finals berth for Sierra
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Sierra High’s girls soccer team went with the “it’s not how you start, but how you finish” approach in its Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV semifinal match at Vista del Lago of Folsom Thursday

And what a finish it was.

Outplayed for the better part of 80 minutes in regulation, the Timberwolves scored the tying goal in stoppage time and snuck away with a 2-1 overtime victory and a ticket to the program’s seventh section finals appearance.

 “It was a great comeback, and this ranks pretty high up there as far as our best playoff (wins),” said Manuel Pires, Sierra’s only varsity girls head coach for 17 years. “We were getting outplayed for the majority of the game, but in overtime we took it to them and stepped it up to another level. Our team just played with so much heart.”

The deciding goal came early in the second of two 10-minute overtime periods. Sydnee Canales made a nice run down the left flank and her shot was initially blocked by the Vista del Lago keeper. Dianna Alfaro was there on the opposite post to finish off the play.

An unlikely hero played a role in the equalizing goal.

Freshman Naomi Nunis, called up from the frosh-soph team for the varsity squad’s postseason run, controlled a throw-in from the right side and delivered it into the box for Joanna Ortiz, who deflected her shot off a Vista del Lago defender foor the goal.

Sierra (16-3-5) was clutch on the attacking third, but Pires said goalkeeper Lia Unterholzner deserves much of the credit for the win. She finished with eight saves.

Two of those stops were point-blank opportunities on the same play, and the third time was the charm for Kenzie Mercier, Vista’s leading scorer who gave the Eagles (15-2) their 1-0 lead early on in the second half.

“Lia had an outstanding game,” Pires said. “Vista del Lago is a very good and organized team.  They’re very young, so I expect them to be back (in the playoffs) next year.”

The win sets up an all-Valley Oak League showdown — the third such occurrence in conference history — in Saturday’s championship match at Lincoln High of Stockton.

VOL champ Oakdale got past Western Athletic Conference titlist Central Catholic in a penalty-kick shootout Thursday.

Sierra is going after its fourth section title.

“We knew early in the season there was a good possibility that this would happen, but the road to get there wasn’t easy,” Pires said of an all-VOL title-round matchup. “I think the experience of playing in a tough league helped both us and Oakdale, and it paid off big time for us today.

“It’s a credit to our league.”