Callie Crain’s long-awaited header goal came at the right time for Sierra on Tuesday.
Visiting East Union had near misses on corner kicks but continued to gain confidence against the unbeaten Timberwolves in this Valley Oak League first-place showdown between cross-town rivals at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium.
Sierra’s talented goal scorers could not poke one into the net through the first 30 minutes of play, so the rangy defender took it upon herself to get her club going in the 4-0 victory.
Jasmine Loaiza started the sequence in the 32nd minute with a corner kick that was cleared away from the penalty box, but she teed up another cross as it was sent weakly back in her direction.
Crain tracked it down on the run, timed her jump perfectly and flicked it backwards and over Lancer keeper Kylie Mendez (eight saves).
“I’ve been wanting a header goal on a corner kick this whole season,” Crain said. “Every game I go up and I’m like, ‘I want this one. This one is mine.’ I haven’t been able to hit one in yet.
“When the ball went out I knew she’s been playing them to the near post, and my first instinct was that’s where to run. I knew I could flick it over the goalkeeper, she wasn’t that tall, so just a little flick over her head was the easiest thing to do.”
The Timberwolves (6-0 VOL, 15-0-1 overall) seized control from there, getting two goals from Jadyn Shinn and another from Yasmin Ballew. They led 2-0 at halftime after a penalty kick from Shinn, who was taken down in the box by Mendez on a breakaway in the 35th minute.
“We were not playing the way we normally play with the possession game,” Sierra coach Manuel Pires said. “We were breaking down all over the field, and that goal came at the right time to light us up a little bit. That was a great finish by Callie.”
The 15 minutes leading up to Crain’s highlight header belonged to the Lancers (5-1-0, 10-4-0).
Taysha McGuire threatened to score off a corner-kick header of her own in the 26th minute, but Sierra goalie Michaela Bitle was able to collect it after reaching above her head and knocking it down with her right hand.
McGuire had another good look 13 minutes later and blew the right-footed strike wide of the target. Those were the Lancers’ best chances in the opening half, and a series of unfortunate events followed that quickly took away their hard-earned momentum.
Sierra struck for the first two goals, and in the final minute an East Union player drew two yellow cards and an ejection for arguing with an official. The Lancers played a man down for the remainder of the match.
“That would have brought our momentum up,” East Union coach Carlos Gaspar said of the missed opportunities. “We started a little slow, then we started picking up our game. We had the header, and then right after that the penalty kick and then the red card.
“It’s hard to play a man down against a team like this,” he added. “The girls did great. I’m proud of the girls.”
To their credit, the Lancers continued to scrap despite the disadvantage and actually attempts more shots in the second half (seven) than in the first (five). Sierra took 18 shots total, 12 on frame. Crain replaced Bitle at goal in the second half and came up with a kick save on a corner kick.
Ballew scored just two minutes into the second half, following up on Shinn’s breakaway try that was initially deflected by Mendez. Then in the 74th, Shinn collected her second goal of the game — and 21st for the season — on a cross from Daisy Valencia. Shinn has scored in nine straight matches after missing Sierra’s first seven.
“Even with 10 players they played very well in the second half,” Pires said. “They didn’t give us anything easy. We had to really defend them well to shut them down in the second half because they had a couple of good opportunities. Sometimes people think that when the other team plays with 10 it’s pretty easy but it’s not. Sometimes it’s the other way around.”
And the Timberwolves aren’t expecting anything to come easily as the second half of the league season approaches. They have just completed a tough three-game stretch, beginning with road wins over Central Catholic and Manteca, in which they faced the biggest threats to their crown.
“That’s huge, but knowing that we beat all of them they’ll come out even harder in the second halfm” Crain said. “Those are going to be our toughest games this season, and if we want to win the VOL we’re going to have to come out stronger.”