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Sierra GK preserves tie with last-second save
Sierra High keeper Lia Unterholzner swats the ball away from danger after a cornerkick early in the second half of Friday’s Valley Oak League grudge match with visiting East Union. - photo by HIME ROMERO
Goalkeepers hardly get the glory, but on Friday Sierra High goalkeeper Lia Unterholzner took advantage of that rare opportunity in an evenly-contested 1-1 tie with visiting crosstown rival East Union.

On the match’s final play, East Union defender Rachel Sianez delivered a perfectly-placed lob ahead of freshman striker Isela Rivera, who squirted between two Sierra players to get to the ball.

Unterholzner read the play beautifully, timing her charge to stuff Rivera’s 1-on-1 before a shot was taken. Unterholzner punted the ball out of the penalty box, and the match was over. She was mobbed by teammates shortly after.

“I was like, ‘That’s my ball,’” Unterholzner said. “I knew the clock was winding down, and as the ball got closer to the goal I knew that I was going to have to make a save.”

Unterholzner finished with five saves and had another 1-v-1 stop in the first half. She and the Timberwolves were fortunate on one second-half shot, when Stephanee Sabala had an attempt graze high off the left post.

“That was a brilliant stop by their keeper at the end there,” East Union coach Jim Todd said. “Isela did all that she could, but we can’t wait until the last 15 seconds to settle it.

“At moments we had brilliant control of the midfield. They did everything I was looking for; we just didn’t get the goals.”

Though outshot 12-10, the Lancers (2-0-1 Valley Oak League, 9-3-1 overall) had the more threatening opportunities and won the possession battle late in the first half and for a large part of the second. Sierra’s best looks were wide-open shots from distance.

The Timberwolves (1-1-1, 6-2-3) did make good on one nicely-mounted attack in the 29th minute when Joanna Ortiz set up freshman Sydnee Canales with a breakaway. Canales juked East Union keeper Ashley Almeida to the right and touched it in for an easy goal.

That was East Union’s cue to take over. In the final minute of the opening half, dynamic freshman forward Regina Dias was left all alone for a 30-yard booming shot from a dead-center angle. The ball sailed directly over an outstretched Unterholzner and snuck in just below the crossbar.

“She had too much room,” Sierra coach Manuel Pires said. “Everyone just stood around and watched. She had an opportunity and took it, and it was a great finish.”

East Union, already hampered by injuries to start the season, was without its top striker, four-year starter Megan Howley, who suffered a hair-line fracture to a foot in the preseason and could be out for the remainder of the year.

“This is as close to a full team that we’ve been, and the girls played well,” Todd said. “I thought that if we had a couple more minutes we’d see an outcome.”

For Sierra, Friday’s match was just a continuation of a brutal start to its VOL title defense. The Timberwolves opened with a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to Oakdale, beat its other rival Manteca 3-1 on Wednesday, and up next is upstart Kimball (2-0, 6-1-1) of Tracy this Monday. Kimball is in its first year as a varsity program with no seniors.

“After Kimball I think we’re going to play the U.S. national team just to keep it going,” Pires joked. “It’s going to be a tough game; we really don’t have an easy one this year. Every team is getting better and better.”

Sierra 3, East Union 1
The visiting Lancers scored first in the 6th minute, but it was all Sierra from there.

Naomi Nunis finished off a cross from Lindsay Williams to tie it in the 15th minute, and just two minutes later reserve Joanna Martinez pushed the Timberwolves ahead. Kyndall Riley capped scoring in the second half.