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Sierra escapes EU with wild win
T’wolves score 3 goals in 2nd half capped by Lopez’s game-winner in 80th minute
Sierra-East Union boys soccer
Diego Lopez (8) celebrates his game-winning goal for Sierra in the 80th minute Thursday at East Union’s Dino Cunial Field. Victor Mejia Martinez (18) had the assist. - photo by SEAN KAHLER

Sierra made the most of its three second-half opportunities in Thursday’s pivotal Valley Oak League match at East Union, finding the net on all of them to pull off a wild 3-2 victory that could force a three-way share of the championship.

Diego Lopez put away the game-winner in the 80th minute off a centered pass from Victor Mejia Martinez. East Union (6-2-0 VOL, 18-6-1 overall) had good looks in stoppage time, but the visiting Timberwolves (6-2-0, 9-6-0) held on for the important three points that keep them in the hunt for the title.

“I ran in for the ball,” Lopez said. “I knew he was going to cross it, but me at 5-5, I knew I wasn’t going to head that ball. I just tapped it with my feet.

“I’ve known Victor for years. It’s a surreal moment, and it was great that it was him who passed me the ball. I’ll never forget that moment in my life.”

Jorge Reyes and Emmanuel Ruiz netted the first two goals for Sierra in this dramatic, back-and-forth affair. Reyes evaded several defenders as he charged into the penalty box before blowing it past EU goalkeeper Andres Garcia (two saves) in the 43rd minute. Reyes later provided the cross on Ruiz’s first-touch goal in the 63rd minute, momentarily giving Sierra the lead.

The Lancers answered with Anthony’s long-distance strike from about 30 yards out in the 78th minute.

On the final play of the game, Sy’s free kick that sailed high and wide left. Preston Avila had a long-range attempt narrowly miss the crossbar earlier in stoppage time.

“We played our hearts out there, man,” Lopez said. “We just gave it our all. This was a great game. Against our cross-town rival EU, you know it’s going to be competitive. This is what it’s all about.”

East Union completely dominated the first half but only had Giovanni Perez’s second-minute goal to show for it. Overall, the Lancers outshot Sierra 18-7 (9-5 on goal) and took six corner kicks in the first half.

“We couldn’t put them away when we had the opportunities,” East Union coach Ronnie Green said. “I don’t know the numbers, but I’m sure we had way more shots. We just couldn’t finish tonight, and that’s what it comes down to.

“I’m not even upset with the boys. It was a hard-fought game and we knew it was going to be a tough game. We control our own destiny still.”

Aiden Dolin-Lira played a role in East Union’s struggles on the attack, finishing with six saves. East Union had two great attempts in the first five minutes of the second half, but the Sierra goalie made a diving stop on Erardo Pelayo’s low drive to the left post and later made a leaping grab to thwart Perez’s curling direct kick headed to the upper-right 90.

“He’s been a key player in all of our games,” Sierra coach Joe Pires said.

His Timberwolves capped a big week in which they avenged both of their league losses. On Tuesday, they trounced Kimball at home, 4-0. Kimball and East Union came into Friday’s games tied for first place, and they square off next Tuesday at Dino Cunial Field.

“Our team is good enough to be in first place by ourselves,” Pires said. “We have really good players and a deep bench. Those two games that we lost could have gone either way, but now we’re playing at the level we should have been at the beginning.”