With a loud crowd urging them on, the varsity soccer Cougars put away Hilmar 3-1 on Thursday to clinch the Trans-Valley League championship.
It was Escalon’s second win of the week and left them in sole possession of first place in the TVL with a final 9-1 record. The win over Hilmar also avenged an earlier season loss on the road to the Yellowjackets, the only blemish on their league mark. Hilmar was second at 8-1-1, losing to Escalon and tying Riverbank.
Hoping for more community support this week, school officials announced on Tuesday that an anonymous donation made will cover the cost of admission to the Thursday first round playoff game, Nov. 5. All Escalon fans will be admitted free of charge to the CIF Section playoff contest.
“We were down 1-0 at the half, Hilmar scored about 25 minutes in,” said head coach Paul Silva of the league finale. “But they really kept their composure, down 1-0 there was no panic, they felt like they were going to get that game. They were really confident.”
Five minutes into the second half on Thursday, the Cougars got the equalizer, coming off the foot of sophomore Hector Rodriguez with the assist from Jairo Duran.
Notching the go-ahead goal about midway through the second half was Ulises Ramirez, Duran assisting. Putting the game out of reach at the 71:00 mark was the sophomore duo of Rodriguez (goal) and Nolan Rockwell (assist).
Cougar keeper Ismael Gonzalez had seven saves.
“We put effort into our practices, we were focused,” Gonzalez said. “We just put the importance on teamwork, now we’re champs; it feels pretty good, awesome.”
After the final whistle and handshakes, players embraced each other and coach Silva, lifting the coach to their shoulders in celebration. He also was doused with a cooler of water and then shared smiles, hugs and handshakes with fans. The team posed for a TVL championship photo, savoring the moment.
“We put in a game plan the last couple of days,” a happy Silva said following the Thursday victory. “They were great about staying true to the plan, we fell behind but we stayed with it.”
Kudos went to Fernando Martinez for his work in covering Hilmar’s top scoring threat, said Silva.
“Also a great job by Hector Rodriguez, he had played JV all year and he scored two goals just by battling in the middle, getting himself into a great position to get the goals.”
Earlier in the week, they were shutout winners at Hughson, putting away the Huskies 5-0.
“It was 2-0 at half,” Silva said, with three more goals hitting the back of the net in the second half.
Scoring for Escalon in the first half were Rodriguez with an assist from Guillermo Alvarez, Antonio Larios unassisted, the two scoring about 10 minutes apart.
Second half tallies came 5:00 in, 6:00 in and 22:00 in.
“The first goal, Jairo Duran took it from the defensive area, all the way to the box, he made a long run and put it in the net,” Silva said of the unassisted goal.
Rodriguez scored with an assist from Fabricio Gallo to make it 4-0 and the final goal was also a special one.
“It was on a penalty kick, Jonathan Valeriano, a freshman, put it in,” said Silva.
Valeriano was making his season debut with the varsity, after suffering a broken collarbone and wrist injury early in the campaign at the JV level. He was moved up to varsity after the JV season ended and was just cleared for play, getting in and making a difference against Hughson.
Denis Pineda had three saves for the Cougars; Guillermo Alvarez had a pair of saves as the two split time in goal.
With the TVL title in hand, Escalon goes into the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 5 playoffs as the number two seed. They will be home to host Delhi on Thursday, Nov. 5. Start time is listed as 3 p.m., again with CIF admission charges covered for Escalon fans because of the anonymous donation. A win in the Nov. 5 game would give Escalon another home game, Wednesday, Nov. 11.