REEDLEY – The Reedley High Pirates and Dinuba High Emperors put on an 80-minute battle during their non-league boys soccer matchup, with a brief first half offensive outburst by the hosts proving to be the difference.
Reedley scored both its goals in a seven-minute span, then held on after Dinuba scored in the 76th minute and followed with late pressure to post a 2-1 victory Tuesday evening at Reedley High Soccer Complex. It was the fifth victory in six matches for the Pirates while the Emperors fell to 2-2.
“It was a little bit of a slow start for us in those first five minutes,” Reedley coach Eric Velarde said. “We managed to put them under a little pressure, create some chances and then we got those two goals pretty quick together.”
Dinuba provided an ideal tuneup for Reedley in advance of the Pirates’ Friday, Dec. 8 road matchup at 5:30 p.m. against Sanger High (3-1-1). The Apaches are coming off impressive wins over Selma (6-0 on Dec. 1) and Redwood (4-0 on Dec. 4).
“(Dinuba is) an incredibly intense team, just about the most intense team we’re gonna play all year,” Velarde said. “That’s always been a great rivalry.”
Dinuba assistant coach Ignacio (Nacho) Tapia was pleased with the Emperors’ fight after getting into an early hole.
“I’m happy with the way they’re responding from being down 2-0, and then having chances to even tie the game,” he said, also praising the play of senior goalkeeper Bryan Baeza. “He had two big saves, one in each half, and you cannot ask for more from a keeper to give hope for the team to come back.”
Dinuba put on the early pressure in the match, keeping the play in Reedley’s end although not getting shots on net against Pirates goalkeeper Joel Mendoza. But the RHS offense came to life during the next 10 minutes, finally breaking through in the 12th minute when sophomore forward Abel Padilla was freed up in front and fired a shot past Baeza.
Then in the 19th minute, Pirates freshman Angel Ceja swooped in to score on a scramble in front of the net. But from that point on, Baeza performed like a one-man wall to prevent at least two solid scoring chances by the hosts.
The second big save came in the 70th minute when the senior made a block on a point-blank shot in front of the net and then pounced on the ball as additional attackers approached.
“I really thought (Baeza) was the man of the match, because we probably should have had a chance to (pull away),” Velarde said.
The save seemed to breathe life into the Emperors, who then amped up their dribbling and attack and worked possession into the Reedley end. It paid off in the 76th minute, when junior Yovanni Hernandez launched a hard shot from straightaway outside the box that sailed just past the reach of Mendoza.
Just a minute or so later, Hernandez had a free kick from outside the box and fired another long shot on goal, but Mendoza was able to make the save. The Pirates were able to clear their deep zone, and preserved the victory while running out the remaining minutes.
“So far, that’s been our most complete game besides what we gave up at the end,” Velarde said. “But I think it’s a great test for this team, and today we passed the test. We’re still getting better every single day.”
Reedley’s next home match is Tuesday, Dec. 12 against Sunnyside High (5 p.m. start) before the Pirates travel to a tournament in Long Beach on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 15-16.
Next up for Dinuba are road matches against Buchanan (Thursday, Dec. 7) and Exeter (Tuesday, Dec. 12) before the Emperors take part at the Central Valley Showcase in Clovis on Dec. 14-16.