It has been seven years since Sierra last won a Valley Oak League championship, the longest title drought under longtime coach Manuel Pires.
The Timberwolves are now in position to end it, as they leapfrogged Manteca for the top spot in the table with a 2-0 win at Guss Schmiedt Field on Wednesday. Sierra (8-0-2, 19-0-4 overall) still has four games remaining, including two against teams — Oakdale and Kimball — scrapping for Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berths.
For now, Pires is urging his players to enjoy this one.
“To be able to climb to first place in our league is not an easy thing,” Pires said. “I’m so proud of these girls and the way they battled. We made the plays that we needed to and come out of here with a win.”
Sierra and Manteca (8-1-1, 17-2-1) tangled to a 1-1 draw in their first meeting. Three freshmen factored into the scoring in the rematch.
With both teams trading missed opportunities throughout the first half, Yasmin Ballew finally broke the ice in the 31st minute following a corner kick from junior midfielder Kyndra Kiser. Ballew nearly scored just moments prior but had her long-range shot deflected away by Manteca keeper Ashlee Miller (five saves).
“I took a pretty good (shot), but I felt that if I had dribbled up a little bit closer I would have had a better chance,” Ballew said.
She was much closer on the ensuing corner-kick play. After several deflections, the ball settled in the goal area long enough for Ballew to touch it in.
“It was a huge scramble and I just saw a little gap between the goalie and the defender and I was like, ‘toe poke!’” Ballew said.
Fellow freshmen Jadyn Shinn and Callie Crain doubled Sierra’s lead just 30 seconds into the second half. Crain sent a short through pass up the middle to Shinn, who made one quick move around a defender, crossed the 18-yard line and drove a low laser shot inside the right post with her left foot.
“I really don’t take shots with my left foot, but I knew wasn’t going to have enough time to bring it to my right,” Shinn said. “We wanted to get up by more than one, because it’s a lot harder (trying to hold a one-goal lead). We just had to start it off strong and finish them.”
The rest was left up to Sierra goalie Emma Broderick and the defense, which warded off numerous scoring chances from the Manteca side. The Buffaloes outshot Sierra 14-10, had a 6-3 edge in corner kicks and owned possession for much of the second half.
Manteca had only given up two goals in league and was shut out for just the second time all season.
“My defense is amazing,” said Broderick, who racked up eight saves. “We’ve gotten stronger every game and we just keep on progressing. Leah (Manuleleua, Manteca’s all-time leading scorer) is an amazing player, but we were able to shut them down.”
Broderick had much to do with that. Manteca had point-blank volleys from Madison Burch and Kaitlynn Funsch thwarted by the fourth-year Sierra keeper late in the first half.
She later came up with two more key stops in the final 10 minutes of the match. Ivy Benson received a nice pass from Carly Morrish, but her one timer was pushed wide by the diving Broderick. Funsch had another crack at it in the 77th minute, and Broderick ranged to her left to slap it over the crossbar with one hand. Manteca had another clean look from Jocelyn Reyes during this stretch, but her headshot off Alexa Mayen’s corner-kick cross was sent wide left.
“We definitely had our opportunities,” Manteca coach Justin Coenenberg sad. “The second goal was what really killed us, because after that they were able to sit back and really defend. We were still able to create opportunities and had plenty of chances to score but we didn’t.”
Sierra isn’t in the clear just yet with just a one-point lead, but the Buffaloes do have a tougher schedule the rest of the way out. After their annual Kicking for a Cure contest with Lathrop next Monday, they take on postseason hopefuls Oakdale, Central Catholic and East Union in succession.
“Obviously we’re upset, that didn’t go the way we wanted it to go, but starting tomorrow we’ll regroup and finish off the season,” Coenenberg said. “Hopefully we’ll get another chance to see them in the playoffs.”
East Union 7,
Weston Ranch 0
The Lancers (5-5, 11-6) moved into fifth place after their drubbing of visiting Weston Ranch. They are one of six teams vying for four SJS playoff spots.
Rosalia Ravelo led the way with two goals. Julia Villagon, Arianna Cardenas, Maria Andrade, Vanessa Hamilton and Aleah Jarin added one apiece.