Being the underdog is nothing new for Sierra’s boys soccer team (17-8-3), which has knocked off the No. 2- and 3-ranked teams in the Sac-Joaquin Section on its way to today’s Division IV finale at Elk Grove High.
The eighth-seeded Timberwolves’ Cinderella run ends with No. 2 Pacheco (19-2-4). Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. following the girls Division III championship, starting at noon, pitting No. 2 Sierra (25-2) and No. 1 Vista del Lago. It marks the first time in the SJS that two teams from the same school are vying for a section title on the same day.
Sierra’s boys have rounded into form after struggling through injuries and yellow-card suspensions in the second half of their Valley Oak League schedule. After routing Union Mine 7-2 in the section opener, they stunned top-seeded and defending champion Galt 1-0 and Livingston in overtime, 2-1.
Galt and Livingston were ranked 2 and 3 overall in the section, according to MaxPreps, when they faced Sierra, which has risen from 34th to 29th since its latest upset.
“Our league overall is very tough, and thing became a little tricky there as we started to lose some of our starters,” Sierra coach Joe Pires said. “But the guys never lost faith. They were just frustrated, as were we as coaches. We got into a little funk and snapped out of it at the right time and here we are.”
The Timberwolves are in their second section final after losing to Lincoln 1-0 in overtime back in 2006. Eddie Aguilar (28 goals, 12 assists) tallied all three of the team’s goals in its last two contests and has five goals and two assists in the postseason.
Pacheco, which earned the Western Athletic Conference crown, has been on a roll since its last loss on Jan. 5. The Panthers of Los Banos dropped a 2-1 decision to eventual WAC runner-up Livingston and ended up going 1-1-1 against the Wolves.
Sophomore Pablo Ortiz (23 goals, five assists) netted both of Pacheco’s goals in its 2-0 semifinal win over Liberty Ranch, and Cesar Martinez (14 goals, seven assists) had a hat trick in a 7-0 second-round victory over Placer. Rodolfo Rivera leads the Panthers with 24 goals.
“From what we gather they’re a pretty physical team, but to be in the position they’re in they are obviously very good,” Pires said. “I’m expecting it to be a very good game.”
Sierra’s girls are seeking a fifth section banner in their eighth final-round appearance.
Sierra and Vista del Lago have previously met twice (2011, 2012) in the playoffs and split, with the winner going on to win a section title.
“I don’t know too much about them but I know they’ve been very good the last few years,” said Manuel Pires, the Sierra girls coach and Joe’s older brother. “It’s not going to be any easier. It’s going to be another step-up and we’re going to have to bring our ‘A’ game to win the finals.”
Although they’ve had plenty of opportunities, goals have come at a premium for the Timberwolves of late. They defeated No. 8 Christian Brothers and No. 3 Merced by 1-0 margins in the last two rounds. The defense, however, has been stout, giving up just one goal in its last nine matches and 13 all season.
Vista del Lago’s back line is no slouch either, surrendering just 14 goals. Both clubs have shut out their three postseason opponents.
The Eagles of Folsom will look to limit Sierra sophomore Jadyn Shinn, who booted her 41st goal of the season in the opening minute of the Timberwolves’ semifinal with Merced. Vista del Lago counters with Emily Ormson (17 goals, 18 assists) and Caroline Guthrie (14 goals, six assists).
Among Vista del Lago’s playoff victims is Manteca, the reigning champion of this bracket.
“I want to bring one more (section championship) home and I think these girls deserve it,” Manuel Pires said. “It’s going to be a battle. We’re ready for it.”