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Varsity Soccer Girls Top Riverbank, Tie Hughson
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In a week marked by a pair of very physical contests - and some tense moments when one player was knocked out cold - the Escalon varsity Lady Cougars won one and tied one on the soccer field.

The Trans-Valley League schedule continued with a road game at Riverbank for the girls on Monday, March 30. Last time the two teams met, they tied 3-3. This time, Escalon had the upper hand, taking a 4-2 win in a contest that featured five yellow cards. Two came for the Lady Cougars, three were handed out to the host Lady Bruins.

Freshman Alex Gonzales netted the hat trick for Escalon in the win, Flor Gomez scored the fourth goal. Amanda Franklin and Annie Gallego had the assists and Katie San Julian made seven saves in goal.

Escalon pummeled the goal with shots, the Riverbank keeper making 20 stops on the day. Riverbank was able to convert on a penalty kick.

"It was really intense," coach Jamie Peoples said of the game at Riverbank, which also included an altercation between some young fans while five yellow cards demonstrated the animosity on the field. "I told my girls afterward to just walk straight to the bus or straight to a parent's car to leave."

Heading into the Monday game, Peoples said she laid out the situation for her team.

"I told them this week will make or break our season," the coach said. "We only have two teams going to the playoffs (from TVL)."

That made it important to make a statement, beating a team they had tied before and, in the case of Hughson on Wednesday, tying a team they had lost to before.

"We're in solid third, right behind Hughson," she said.

Hosting the Huskies on Wednesday, April 1, the Cougars were down 2-1 at the half, getting their goal on a penalty kick from Taylor Morrow. She was able to convert on the chance set up by Melanie Winkler, who got taken down in the box as she was moving in for a shot.

The teams battled back and forth, the Lady Cougars tying the game early in the second half with a tally from Amanda Franklin and the assist from Winkler. They got the lead, 3-2, on a goal from Winkler and the assist from Sierra Duran, but Hughson kept pushing, netting the equalizer with 9:20 to go in the game.

A physical game all day, bodies were flying and officials were letting much of the rough play go on both sides. With just over five minutes to play, however, Esmeralda Gomez was knocked out when she took a ball to the face. The Hughson defender was kicking the ball to get it out of Huskies territory, but the booming kick caught Gomez as she was coming in, knocking her off her feet and backwards to the ground. She fell unconscious and it was several minutes before she came to, as players from both teams huddled anxiously on the field.

Escalon Fire Department and Escalon Community Ambulance crews responded to the field and Gomez eventually came to, but was taken off by stretcher to the waiting ambulance.

"It took her a while to come to," explained Peoples. "They did some X-rays at the hospital."

Everything appeared to check out, though Gomez was left with a bad headache.

After the lengthy stoppage in play, officials called the contest, officially ending it in a draw. Escalon players quickly moved to console Esmeralda's twin, Flor Gomez, and Peoples agreed with the decision to call the game, noting that it would have been difficult for the players to jump back in to the physical contest after the long layoff.

"It was a tough, tough battle," she added of the 3-3 tie. "I just wish they would have won, gotten the reward for their effort. I was so proud of them."

Peoples pointed to a strong effort from Winkler in the game, who was moved up from her normal defensive position to play up top.

"She was the one who drew the penalty kick, she was a part of every single goal and played like she had something to prove," Peoples said. "Katie San Julian also made one-on-one, game-winning save after game-winning save."

It took a total team effort to tie with Hughson, and the coach said everyone came through in a big way.

"Bailey Tucker is their (Hughson) star forward and their game plan is to get the ball to her. Annie Gallego just shut her down," Peoples said. "Kara McKee played solid defense, they just had her frustrated."

Escalon took the 3-2 lead with 14 minutes to play but Hughson was able to tie it with nine minutes to go. Still, Peoples said she was glad her team improved on the outcome over the first meeting. Now, she said, they need to focus on their next opponents and work hard to be ready for the third and final league meeting with Hughson, which could determine who moves on to the playoffs.

Next up for the girls is a home game, Monday, April 13 against league leading Ripon. Game time is 4:30 p.m.