HANFORD — A lone shot by Olivia Fagundes in the 53rd minute lifted Sierra Pacific over Strathmore on Friday and vaulted them into sole possession of first place in the East Sequoia League.
The 1-0 final was the Golden Bears’ 10th shutout victory of the season and their third in league. The Golden Bears have conceded one goal in four ESL games while scoring 13 goals.
“They have worked well together, they’re communicating, they’re maintaining their shape,” Sierra Pacific assistant coach John Oliveira said about the stout defense.
Sierra Pacific (15-3-2, 4-0 ESL) entered Friday’s home contest tied atop the ESL standings with Strathmore (7-5, 4-0 ESL). But from the first touch, it was evident the Golden Bears were the better team.
The Golden Bears generated a corner kick in the first minute of the match and took off from there. They controlled the middle third with tiki-taka-like soccer and pressured the wings defensively.
“We would just make short passes and it would tire them out and then we would connect it upwards, which we’ve been practicing all season,” Fagundes said.
Sierra Pacific forward Emma Martella, who was voted the ESL MVP last season, facilitated the ball and created lanes in the box with her speed. Martella had nine shots in the first half, including three on target.
She came close in the 31st minute after a sidestep cleared her of a defender and left her unmarked in the box. Martella’s shot was on target, but Strathmore goalkeeper Martha Gutierrez made the save.
Despite 16 first-half shots by the Golden Bears, the two sides were scoreless at the half.
“We were really connecting with each other and our communication,” Fagundes said. “I feel like most of us have been working together for so long it just comes natural. We dominated on our side most of the game.”
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The second half started out a lot more balanced with each team attempting to make runs into the box, but with little success. But after 13 minutes elapsed in the second half, Sierra Pacific finally got on the board.
Fagundes gathered a throw-in, turned and shot from near the corner of the box. The lob shot sailed over the goalkeeper’s arms and gently found the back of the net for the 1-0 lead.
“I turned and I saw I had nobody on me, so I just took the space and I just shot it,” Fagundes said.
The Spartans had their best chance in the 60th minute when a run into the box led to a foul and a penalty kick. Strathmore’s Valerie Mosqueda’s shot never had a chance, as it sailed high and over the net.
Sierra Pacific outshot Strathmore 18-5 and had more shots on goal (8-3). With the win, the Golden Bears extended their winning streak to seven games and stopped the Spartans’ at five.
“[The win is] a confident booster, it also puts pressure on us because we want to keep that spot,” Fagundes said.
Sierra Pacific will face Corcoran (0-10, 0-4 ESL) on the road next Tuesday at 6 p.m. The Golden Bears swept the Panthers last season by a combined score of 8-0.
“Just take it game by game and look at our next opponent, get ready for them and try and do better finishing in our games ahead,” Oliveira said.