It’s a rematch for Escalon.
The varsity soccer boys have made it back to the Sac-Joaquin Section title game in Division V, facing off against defending champion West Campus.
The game is scheduled for Thursday night, March 1 at Elk Grove High School with a 7 p.m. start time.
“The kids are super pumped up, they are so happy they made it to the finals again,” head coach Paul Silva noted.
The same two teams faced off last year in the finals, West Campus getting the victory.
The Trans-Valley League champions, Escalon went in to the playoffs as the number three seed and hosted number six Delhi in the first round on Tuesday, Feb. 20.
The host Cougars took a 4-1 win off the field in that contest, going up 2-0 at the half.
“About eight minutes in, Nolan Rockwell scored and Guillermo Alvarez had the assist,” Silva said. “About 20 minutes in, Guillermo had the goal and Hector Rodriguez had the assist.”
Escalon kept the pressure on in the second half, scoring about midway through that frame with another goal from Alvarez, the assist from Rodriguez.
That put the home team up by a 3-0 score.
“With about 10 minutes to go, Delhi scored to make it 3-1 but with about five minutes left, we had a free kick just outside the box,” Silva explained. “I had Gustavo Hernandez, a sophomore that I brought up for the playoffs, take the kick and he stuck it right in.”
That gave Escalon the final margin of victory, 4-1. Goalie Albaro Plascencia had eight saves in goal so he was kept busy by the visitors.
“Delhi pushed a lot of players forward, we were repelling their attacks and going on the counter, we made them pay for pushing so many guys forward,” said Silva. “They were pretty talented so I was pleased with our defense; they did a really good job against the pressure.”
The win put Escalon on the road, heading to Highlands, near Sacramento, for a Thursday, Feb. 22 contest. Highlands, the number two seed, defeated number seven Riverbank in their opening round game. The second round match up saw the Cougars eventually coming out on top, 4-3.
“It took us over two hours to get there and it was a very intense, emotional game,” Silva said of the tough travel contest. “We had a couple of great chances to score early and then three minutes in, Highlands took the lead, 1-0.”
Rather than sit back, the Cougars redoubled their efforts and continued to attack, the strategy paying off a few minutes later.
“Eleven minutes in, we countered, got the ball, Guillermo took it in and scored on a breakaway,” Silva said. “Twenty minutes in, it was more of the same, they pushed forward but we were able to get the ball, played it to open space and Guillermo made it 2-1.”
With just 10 minutes remaining in the first half, Highlands tied the game and the squads ended the wide open first half knotted at 2-2.
“We made some adjustments and took better hold of the game,” Silva said of the Cougars settling in for the second 40 minutes of play.
Midway through that frame, Alvarez found the net again, getting in behind the defenders to make it a 3-2 Cougar lead.
“Twelve minutes later, Guillermo got his fourth goal, this one was assisted by Nolan, he played a perfect through ball and Guillermo’s speed just carried him by the defenders,” explained Silva.
Highlands made it interesting, scoring with five minutes to go, trimming the lead to 4-3. The defense tightened up, however, not allowing any more goals and the Cougars nailed down their second trip to the Section title game in as many years.
Oscar Gonzalez had 10 saves in goal.
Last year, the Cougars battled but fell short against West Campus in the finale, coming home with Section runner-up honors.
“This is what they have wanted all season long, to play in that game again,” Silva said of his team looking for another chance to battle West Campus. “Now we want to reverse the result; it has been a motivating factor all season.”
It won’t be easy; West Campus has rolled past both opponents so far, taking down number eight Orestimba by a 9-0 decision and defeating number four seed Linden 7-0 in the first two rounds.
“They’re in good form right now and they’re a good team,” Silva noted. “Hopefully we’ll be a little bit better prepared for them, we need to stay solid defensively.”
Silva added that “it has been an amazing year” for the Cougars already but they do want more. He also said winning the second round game to even have a chance at the Section title was an emotional victory for his squad.
“I’m so happy for them,” the coach said. “That joy they had when they won (Thursday) was awesome.”
Escalon’s varsity Lady Cougars made the playoffs after finishing third in the Trans-Valley League standings. They went in as the number six seed and that gave them a road game on Wednesday, Feb. 21. The girls traveled to number three seed West Campus and came up short against the host team. They lost in a shutout, 5-0, but coaches were pleased that the squad battled its way back into the playoffs this season.
“We held them (scoreless) until there was four minutes left in the first half,” said head coach Jamie Peoples. “Lily Franks had six saves. We played hard, had a great season.”
The Division V final for the Section crown, Peoples noted, will feature the two teams that finished ahead of them in league action, number one seed Hilmar and number two seed Ripon.
“Good to know it’s a TVL showdown for the title,” Peoples added.