Eddie Aguilar didn’t always score goals in bunches during his senior campaign with Sierra, but he had a knack for coming up with the clutch ones.
He was especially at his best in the postseason when he spearheaded the Timberwolves’ charge to their second Sac-Joaquin Section in school history, an achievement he believed to be attainable during the roughest stretch of his team’s season.
Aguilar is the Manteca Bulletin’s 2016-17 All-Area Boys Soccer MVP.
The Ottawa University-bound forward paced area scorers with 28 goals and 12 assists. Amazingly, he didn’t have a single hat trick all season after racking up six in a junior year in which he totaled 37 goals.
“I did notice that I didn’t have any hat tricks this year, but that’s not what I was too focused about during the season,” Aguilar said. “I was more focused on winning with my team. None of the goals I scored would have been possible if it weren’t for the guys in the back and guys like David (Lopez) and Kevin (Mendiola) in the middle helping me out.”
Sierra began the rigorous Valley Oak League schedule with six straight wins and had Aguilar to thank. In what may have been the wildest — not to mention wettest and windiest — games on the pitch this past winter, he helped the Timberwolves squeak past defending VOL and SJS Division III champion Weston Ranch, 5-4. Aguilar netted tying and go-ahead goals on headers, and in the 72nd minute assisted Mendiola’s game-winning volley.
Two days later, Aguilar struck twice in a 3-2 road win against Oakdale, the eventual league runner-up and section finalist a year ago.
Sierra’s sterling start to league was soon forgotten. Starting players were dropping all around Aguilar a handful at a time. Some sat out on one-game suspensions because of yellow-card accumulation. Others nursed injuries or struggled to recover from illnesses during an especially stormy stretch of the season.
The downward spiral began with a 3-1 loss to rival East Union, which went on to capture the league title and the No. 1 seed in the SJS Division III playoffs. The Timberwolves’ 6-0 start was followed by a 2-4-6 finish, and they limped into the postseason as the fourth-place finisher out of the VOL.
As much as Sierra struggled over the second half of league, Aguilar got to show off his versatility. He filled in at the center midfield spot and even played some defense as the wounded and shorthanded T’wolves tried desperately to remain in the hunt.
“We had a dream start, and the second half of the season we just fell off,” Aguilar said. “I told the team after the (second) EU game we tied (2-2) that we started 6-0, and if we win out from here we’d be 5-0. If we can go 6-0, why can’t we go 5-0?”
They nearly did.
Sierra capped the regular season with a 2-0 win in its rematch with Weston Ranch, then kick started its Cinderella run through the SJS Division IV tournament with a 7-2 thrashing of Union Mine in an out-bracket match.
Aguilar had two goals and two assists in the postseason opener, but he was just getting started. He accounted for all three of Sierra’s goals in its next two contests, both upset wins against two of the section’s premier programs.
The eighth-seeded Timberwolves first encountered heavily-favored Galt, the top-seeded team and defending champion in this bracket. The Warriors also had a 25-game unbeaten streak, which was snapped by Aguilar’s deciding goal in the 77th minute of a dramatic 1-0 win for Sierra.
He then knocked in both of Sierra’s goals in a 2-1 win over No. 4 Livingston in the semifinals, including the go-ahead in overtime.
“It’s amazing to be put in that situation,” Aguilar said. “It was a great run. Things did not go in our favor, but I’m still thankful to be the position we were in to have even made it that far.”
Aguilar was shut out in the finals, where Sierra lost to Pacheco via penalty-kick shootout (4-3) after they battled to a 1-1 stalemate. The loss still haunts him, but he is also grateful to have had the opportunity to play in the biggest game of his high school career.
“It’s definitely heartbreaking,” he said. “Even today I have little flashbacks, but not every team gets to be in that situation. Not every senior gets a chance to go out with a section championship in his last year.”