STOCKTON – For the better part of its Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV Final match against nationally ranked Vista del Lago, East Union Highseemed poised to play the role of spoiler.
An untimely second-half bounce from the ball past East Union keeper Dominic Riella deflated the Lancers (15-8-2), and another Vista goal 14 minutes later lifted Vista to its second consecutive section title, and ended one of the most decorated seasons in East Union soccer history by way of a 2-0 loss Saturday at Lincoln High.
“We are very proud of these guys; I mean these kids played well,” East Union head coach Clarence Goes. “Throughout the entire season; winning the (Valley Oak League) which hasn’t been done in 18 years, and to also come here and keep this game that close.
“We were in it until that ball took that funny bounce.”
The Lancers had battled Vista to a scoreless tie through the game’s first half, succeeding in every attempt to frustrate Eagles captain and scoring leader Tim Fairley. Fairley would not be silenced in the second half, gathering in a deflected shot and changing the game with a knuckle-ball like bounce that short hopped Riella and found the net.
“I worked hard in the box and got it away from the guy,” Fairley said. “It took a lucky deflection and bounced past the keeper. They were really a hard-working team that put a lot of pressure on us throughout the game, which a lot of teams haven’t.”
Fairley would add his second goal minutes later after the Lancers were forced to try and change their fate by adding a defender to the mix.
“Truthfully, we were really close in this game throughout,” East Union captain Cruz Hernandez said. “We had nothing but pressure and we did a good job out there, I think during the end there, we just lost our mental game.
“We started playing more physical and that’s when they yellow cards started coming.”
The two clubs combined for eight yellow cards, with Jairo Baires collecting his second yellow from the bench to earn a red card. The physicality of the contest peaked in its waning moments, but by this time Vista had already inflicted irreparable damage.
“This was by far the toughest game we have played throughout league and in the playoffs,” Vista head coach Joe Esfandiary said. “They were a great team and it really took that extra effort to put the ball in the back of the net.
“My hat is tipped off to their team; they were a good opponent for our program.”
The thought of the Lancers upending the defending section champs was preposterous going into the first whistle. Vista (18-0-1) came in riding an undefeated season and the section’s fourth leading scorer. It would have seemed more logical for Fairley to put together his sixth game with at least a hat-trick then it would be for the UCLA-bound senior to end his high school career with a loss.
That was until East Union put together a near-perfect half of defense to open the match, and found themselves halfway to another near-perfect half. The trickery the ball played on East Union proved more valuable than any bounce from Fairley’s 30 goal season.
“We were all excited to be here, each one of us felt that we belonged in this game,” East Union’s Jordan Kron said. “It has been a long year; you just have to give it to Vista del Lago, they are a good team. We felt like we kept them close, but two fluke goals kind of decided the game.
“We’re excited that we came this far and we can’t hang our heads about that.”