In a nail-biting, hard hitting contest on Thursday – a game that saw several yellow cards assessed and one red card for the visitors – Escalon’s varsity soccer boys prevailed with a 2-1 shootout victory over visiting Natomas, earning the right to play for the Sac-Joaquin Section crown.
The Cougars were 2-1 winners over Venture Academy in Tuesday’s opening round action in Division V, then hosted Natomas in the semifinals on Thursday, Feb. 23.
A 1-1 tie at the end of regulation saw the teams go to the double overtime format, playing two 10-minute overtime periods. Neither team could score in the OT, so the game came down to a shootout, with five players on each side lining up to take shots against the opposing team’s goalie.
Escalon shot first, with Guillermo Alvarez notching the first goal against the Natomas keeper. Natomas then made their shot. Hector Rodriguez scored for Escalon, Natomas countered with a goal. Denis Pineda scored and then Escalon keeper Ismael Gonzalez made a kick out toe save of the next Natomas shot, deflecting it with his foot at the last second. That gave Escalon a 3-2 edge. Jonathan Valeriano made it 4-2, Natomas got the next one in to make it 4-3.
That brought it down to senior captain Juan Albor, facing off with the Natomas keeper with the game on the line.
Albor’s shot streaked past the goalie, making it 5-3 Escalon and sealing the victory and trip to the finals.
“I stared him down,” Albor said of lining up to take the shot and working to get inside the keeper’s head. “I made sure he was the one who was nervous, not me.”
The Cougars will move on to play for the Section crown on Thursday, March 2 at a site to be determined, playing the winner of the West Campus-Foothill semifinal match.
Look for the full story and photos from the semifinal game in the March 1 issue of The Times.