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EU weathers early storm to force tie
East Union players tend to an injured teammate near midfield. - photo by HIME ROMERO
Sierra High’s girls soccer players hobbled toward the sideline with shoulders slumping following a 0-0 tie against visiting rival East Union at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium Thursday.

There was a hint of disappointment on the Timberwolves’ side, but the physical beating that the already injury-ravaged team endured during a tough four-match stretch, three of which were played in four days this week, in the Valley Oak League was the main reason for the lifeless body language.

“This is a brutal schedule,” Sierra coach Manuel Pires said. “Even if my team was healthy, it would still be a hard week for us. Considering all the things that this team has had to go through and having to battle in these three games, I thought we hung with them pretty good.

“There were times we looked pretty good and there were times we didn’t look very good, but East Union played a decent game and battled all the way through.”

East Union’s players had a little more spring to their step after the game, but they were no less disappointed about the tie.

A win would have established the Lancers (2-0-2, 7-2-4 overall) as the ones to beat in a top-heavy conference that has Oakdale (2-0-2, 7-2-4) and Manteca (4-1, 10-3-1) in the mix of contending teams.

East Union and Oakdale battled to a 1-1 draw last week, and on Tuesday Oakdale and Sierra were scoreless after 80 minutes. Manteca, which has lost to Sierra but has yet to face EU and Oakdale, leapfrogged Sierra for the league’s top spot with Thursday’s 6-2 win over Central Valley.

“It’s a free-for-all,” East Union coach Jim Todd said. “We even have Weston Ranch looking pretty good this year, so it’s a dogfight.”

Sierra (3-0-2, 7-4-2) has played some of its best soccer in the first 20 minutes of its recent games. The T’Wolves couldn’t convert on three great opportunities against Oakdale Tuesday, and Thursday’s match was no different.

“It was like a flashback,” Pires said.

Sierra’s best looks came early, while EU’s best attempt came late. Only 10 shots were taken all match, seven from Sierra. The Lancers were held shotless until there were four minutes to go in the opening half.

Both goalkeepers, Taylor Maruca for EU and Moriah Fallon for Sierra, had just one save but stuffed a several threatening crosses and runs.

In the 20th minute, Lucia Cazares found Mariela Pimentel with a well-timed through-ball to spark a breakaway. Pimentel settled at the top of the 18-yard line but fired her shot wide right of the goal.

Eleven minutes later, Delaine Quaresma started one of the game’s few shining sequences with a through pass to Joanna Ortiz, who carried the ball down the left flank and crossed it toward the opposite post. Kenisha Gathran’s volley sailed wide.

“That was a great overlapping run, one of the better plays of the game,” Pires said. “I thought we had the best chances to score.”

East Union pieced together its best attacking run in the 60th minute.

Stephanie Sabala and Megan Howley worked in symphony during a well-played 1-2 combination that resulted in Howley taking a shot from inside the right half of Sierra’s box but clearing the crossbar by about five feet.

“I thought something was going in,” Todd said. “We kind of thought that this was going to be a ‘golden goal’ game. Somebody was going to break away and put it in the net, and I thought that was going to be it.”