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Timberwolves topple Lathrop in 3OT for 1st win
Sierra-Lathrop flag football
Sierra running back Taylor Zalunardo tries to break away from Lathrop linebacker Faith Butler (4) during a non-league contest at Bennie Gatto Field. - photo by Wayne Thallander

Sierra celebrated its first flag football win in school history Tuesday at Lathrop’s Bennie Gatto Field, doing so in triple overtime, 18-12.

“It actually feels amazing,” Sierra sophomore Maitland Kohoutek said. “We’ve worked so hard, and we’ve been playing some really, really good teams. We’re so happy to finally get that first win.”

The towering quarterback/safety keyed victory with two touchdown passes and the clinching interception in the overtime. She totaled three touchdowns on 17-of-33

Sierra-Lathrop flag football
Lathrop quarterback Belinda Renteria gets rid of the ball while rushed by Sierra’s Margeil Garcia in a non-league flag football game at Bennie Gatto Field. - photo by Wayne Thallander
passing while contributing two tackles and two picks on defense. Her 4-yard strike to Deonna Wilson up the middle was the go-ahead score in the third overtime.

Janessa Barnes was on the receiving end on the play of the game. Sierra (1-8) stayed alive thanks to her fourth-down catch in a crowd in the first round of overtime. Needing to score from 20 yards out to tie it, Kohoutek lofted a deep ball to the front of the end zone.

“Janessa ripped it down,” Kohoutek said. “I was like, ‘I don’t know if she’s going to catch this.’ I was stressing, and when she finally grabbed it I was so happy for her and happy for the team. We ended up getting the win (because of) it.”

It was a tough break for Lathrop (1-7), which was a play away from securing its second win. Multiple Spartans were there to make the play, but Barnes (eight receptions, 63 yards) was able to use her length and strength to rise above the crowd and come down with the catch. 

Lathrop is now 0-4 in games decided in overtime.

“We had it covered, and that girl made a heck of a catch,” Lathrop coach Randy Baltazar said. “You tip your hat, that’s a great athlete. We had somebody there, she just made a phenomenal, athletic move and caught it. They had the momentum after that.”

His Spartans struck first in overtime, as freshman Ja’Leiyah Ray — who took over at quarterback in the final minute of the second half after Belinda Renteria went down with a sprained ankle — hit Tatiana Lowery for a 20-yard touchdown. Kohoutek had chance to deflect the pass, but the ball just sailed beyond her reach. She later made up for it with her winning interception on a similar play.

On first down, Sierra blitzed with the speedy Margeil Garcia and forced Ray to scramble to her right. She threw it on the run, only this time, Kohoutek read it all the way to get there in time for the pick.

“As a QB myself, I can tell where the QB’s mind is,” Kohoutek said. “Sometimes, she’ll completely surprise me, but I guessed right and ran right to the ball and got underneath it.”

Ashtyn Perez recorded Sierra’s first touchdown of the game early in the second half, making a tough 1-yard catch in the end zone to tie it at 6-6. The score was set up by an interception from Taylor Zalunardo, who led the Timberwolves’ defense with five tackles, two interceptions and two pass break-ups. Kiley O’Neill and Wilson each contributed an interception.

Sierra-Lathrop flag football
Lathrop receiver Tatiana Lowery keeps her eyes on the ball as it sails just past the reach of Sierra safety Maitland Kohoutek to score a touchdown in the first round of overtime Tuesday at Bennie Gatto Field. - photo by Wayne Thallander

Sierra’s defense has been solid for much of the season, but the offense is still working out the kinks.

“When you start off the way we did, the morale of the team can be pretty low,” Sierra coach Chris Zalunardo said. “Definitely feels good to get the victory, for sure.

“Still learning what works in a particular game and what need to work on in practice. Every team brings something different. This is all new to everyone, so we’re still learning the game. All in all, just figuring out what works for our team and expanding on that.”

The Timberwolves will find out how far they’ve come this Thursday when they return to Tri-City Athletic League play against visiting Tokay. Sierra, 0-6 in the TCAL, opened its season with a 55-0 loss to the Tigers.

Lathrop also has a tall task ahead with Escalon coming on Thursday. The Spartans are 1-1 in the Western Athletic Conference.

Kiana Quintero led them Tuesday with four catches, 26 yards and a touchdown. Renteria connected with her from 5 yards out midway through the first half.

Faith Butler paced the defense with eight tackles. Suhani Banwait had an interception, and Heiddy Camacho and Lowery each contributed a sack.

“It was tough to lose that way, but it was fun and exciting,” Lathrop coach Randy Baltazar said. “They’re a good team (despite) their record. When you’re playing rivals, anything can happen.

“I thought our girls played well. It came down to the wire. You love to see the competitive nature in these girls. Now, we have to be ready for a good Escalon team.”