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Own goal dooms East Union
SOC--East Union-Central Valley pic 2
East Unions Victor Hurtado reaches in but has the ball shielded by Central Valley forward Juan Martinez. - photo by DALE BUTLER/The Bulletin

CERES — The last time the East Union and Central Valley boys soccer programs met in the playoffs their semifinal escalated into a shootout.

There were seven goals that afternoon, five of which were celebrated by the upset-minded Lancers.

On Tuesday, there was only one goal ... if you can even call it that.

The Hawks avenged their 2011 loss to East Union and advanced to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III quarterfinal round with a 1-0 victory.

How Central Valley notched that goal will sting East Union coach Victor Polanco and his boys for awhile. Forward Gerardo Enriquez snaked his way along the Lancer end line and tried to center a ball in front of goal. Three Lancers converged on the front post, intercepting the ball and inadvertently knocking it into the net for the game’s only score.

“I was thinking it would be a one-goal game,” Polanco said, “but unfortunately, we put it in our own goal. Congrats to Central Valley. They did what they had to do to get the win.”

Even Central Valley head coach Omar Leon felt fortunate to be a bit lucky. His team was outshot 12-5 and helplessly watched as East Union banged a shot off the crossbar in the 7th minute.

“There were not a lot of opportunities for either team in this game,” Leon said. “We were lucky to score at the right moment. It could have gone either way. They have good players. I love No. 9 (Gustavo Vasquez).”

The 11th-seeded Lancers dominated the run of play in the first 40 minutes with Vasquez at the controls.

The super-smooth center midfielder navigated Central Valley’s middle — a rough and physical bunch — springing teammates on long runs and widening the field with passes to the sideline. 

He was playing like the man of the match, and the Lancers seemed poised to draw first blood. Midfielder Alejandro Sanchez came close in the 7th minute, whipping an 18-yard shot on goal.

The ball came off his right foot like a slider, starting left before darting back to the right. It did well to fool Central Valley goalie Ramon Ruiz (five saves), but the blast was just a touch too high and banged off the crossbar.

The Lancers outshot the defensive-minded Hawks 4-2 in the first half.

“I was telling my other coach, if that ball went in it would have changed the whole thing,” Polanco said. “If that ball goes in, I know they’d start to go down, you know, and we would have more opportunities to score. It would have been a more wide open game.”

Instead, Central Valley flipped the script, turning the beautiful game into a bruising, defensive affair following the own goal in the 49th minute.

Central Valley had a plan for Vasquez in the second half. The Hawks closed the space around the slippery senior and weren’t shy with their challenges. The contact isn’t entirely illegal, though it didn’t stop the East Union sideline from crying foul.

“It’s part of the game,” Leon said. “You get our body in there and prevent forward progress.”

The Hawks were booked twice for yellow cards and a hard collision on Vasquez in the 79th minute gave the Lancers a last-ditch opportunity at the equalizer.

Vasquez was fouled by center back Victor Yepez about a foot outside the penalty area. Gerardo Romero ripped a shot into the wall, where the ball appeared to hit off a Central Valley player’s hand.

Polanco pleaded for the hand ball, which would have resulted in a penalty kick, but the referee allowed the game to play on.

Moments later, the Hawks celebrated a berth in Thursday’s quarterfinal against Pioneer.

East Union left the field with its heads held high. Vasquez said the team accomplished all of its goals, the biggest of which was earning a return trip to the Division III tournament after a two-year hiatus.

The Lancers finished the season at 10-5-3.

“This team surprised me so much. We were a little shaky at first, but we grew so much. We’re a five-star team now,” Vasquez said. “We grew as brothers.

“I feel pretty beat up right now, but I’m happy for my team. I’m sad we lost, but they gave it their all and that’s all we can ask for.”

The game also gave Polanco a glimpse into the future of his program.

Several members of the Lancers’ frosh-soph VOL championship team played significant minutes in the second half, including freshman defender Trent Rivera Jr., Victor Hurtado and Jesus Hurtado.

“I put in a lot of players from the JV team so they could get experience,” Polanco said, “so they know how to play in a playoff game in the future. They’re going to be ready.”

Bryce Lew and Jose Modesto shared goal-keeping duties for the Lancers. Lew finished with two saves.

Romero came into the game with a team-high 14 goals and nearly netted No. 15 in the 70th minute. The junior raced onto a perfectly weighted through ball and tried to float Ruiz, who had come off his line to tip the shot.