LODI — Two late Sonora steals that were converted into goals squelched a late comeback by No. 2 Ripon and give the No. 6 Wildcats a 9-6 semifinal Sac-Joaquin Section Division win at Tokay High.
Trailing 7-2 late in the third quarter and having been held scoreless in the second period, the Indians (17-8) came alive. With 2:03 remaining in the third, Noah Esenwein (two goals) buried a penalty shot to draw Ripon within 7-3.
Three consecutive fourth-quarter goals by the Indians – one by Ty Wells (three goals) assisted by Jaskehar Sekhon, another by Esenwein on a penalty shot rebound and a third on a rebound by Wells narrowed the gap to 7-6 with 1:57 left in the game.
At that point Esenwein was forced to leave the game due to an injured eye and the Wildcats (13-15) took full advantage, nabbing two steals that led to two goals to ice the contest.
“We had a rough start,” Wells said. “But eventually we started to put it together but then Noah (Esenwein) got injured right at the end and that really hurt us.
“We are a really young team and getting as far as we have is really good. I am the only senior, Noah is the only junior and everyone else is a freshman or sophomore. So we are pretty much a JV team, and the fact that we are playing with a team like Sonora that is all seniors for the most part is amazing.”
As one of two upperclassmen on the team, Esenwein’s sudden departure created a huge hole for Ripon.
“That was a huge impact,” Indians coach Erik Zador said of Esenwein’s injury. “When you are down by one and you lose one of your best players with less than two minutes left that’s huge, especially when I only have brand-new freshmen to replace him. That was a pretty devastating blow.”
The other two Ripon goals came on an unassisted one by Lucas Esenwein in the first quarter and the other on Wells’ first rebound of the night midway through the third quarter.
These two teams are no strangers as both are in the Valley Oak League.
“They have been our rival the last five or six years,” Sonora coach Josh Martin said. “They are in our league and they beat us by two in league. Last time they came out and jumped on us pretty good 4-1 at home, so we were hungry for it and wanted to send a message back to them.”