Manuel Pires wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, smiled and breathed a sigh of relief.
“We had to sweat this one out,” he said after his Sierra girls soccer team fended off dangerous East Union 3-2 at Dino Cunial Field on Monday. The win sets the Timberwolves (7-0-2, 18-0-4 overall) up for their big Valley Oak League showdown for first place Wednesday at Manteca.
East Union (4-5, 10-6) hasn’t beaten a top team in its title defense but proved once again to be no easy out. The Lancers played the majority of the match on Sierra’s end of the field and for the most part controlled the pace of play.
“They can still battle with anybody, obviously,” Pires said. “This is their home field and they’re not going to let anybody walk in here and get out with an easy win.
“It was important for us to get the win here to put us in position to play for something against Manteca in our next game.”
Daisy Valencia, Jadyn Shinn and Callie Crain each scored for the Timberwolves, and Kyndra Kiser contributed two assists. They led 2-1 at halftime and got the much-needed insurance goal from Crain in the 49th minute. She scored on a well-placed header off a perfect corner-kick cross from Kiser. Crain scored in similar fashion but in the run of play against Central Catholic last Friday.
“She really has no fear in the air,” Pires said. “She reads the spot really well, gets herself in good position and goes after the ball. She knew exactly where to put it and drilled it. We definitely needed that goal because it gave us the three points that we needed.
“I knew this game was not going to finish out 3-1. We had a couple chances in the first half to get the lead up in a comfort zone, but East Union came back and pushed us all the way to the end.”
East Union earlier tied it at 1-1 in the 21st minute when Arianna Cardenas’ shot deflected off a Sierra defender. Clarissa Lecce closed the gap in the second half in the 64th minute, finishing off a nice breakaway sequence started by Bella Cardenas and Jenna Zuniga.
The Lancers had several other scoring opportunities in the second half, none better than Rosalia Ravelo’s short-range headshot that deflected off the crossbar. Zuniga’s follow-up was saved by Sierra keeper Emma Broderick.
“The ball just does not want to go in for us,” East Union coach Victor Polanco said of his team’s struggles on the attacking third. “We’re still working and we’re not going to give up. It’s a little frustrating, but that’s the way it is in soccer.”
Manteca 2, Kimball 1
Leah Manuleleua accounted for both of Manteca’s goals, netting one in each half. Lejla Pepic assisted the second goal in the 44th minute. Kimball cut the lead in half at about the 60th minute.
All though Manteca (8-0-1, 17-1-1) beat Kimball more decisively, 6-0, on its home field, coach Justin Coenenberg figured the Jaguars (3-5-1, 5-6-6) would put up a fight in the second go-around.
“They’re a good team, but on that (artificial) turf they’re even tougher,” he said. “Their goalie is real good and their back line is super fast. They don’t give up very many opportunities and fortunately for us we made enough of ours.”