PREP BOYS SOCCER: Reedley, Sanger carry title hopes in respective conferences, D-I

Pirates and Apaches battle to spirited tie on Dec. 8, Dinuba aims to challenge for West Yosemite League top spot

Sanger High’s Santana Mercado raises his arms as he pursues a loose ball during the second half of the Apaches’ 3-3 draw with Reedley High on Dec. 8. The senior forward and co-captain scored two goals in the match, and is one of the Apaches’ veteran leaders in their bid for a County Metro Athletic Conference championship. (Jon Earnest)
Sanger High’s Santana Mercado raises his arms as he pursues a loose ball during the second half of the Apaches’ 3-3 draw with Reedley High on Dec. 8. The senior forward and co-captain scored two goals in the match, and is one of the Apaches’ veteran leaders in their bid for a County Metro Athletic Conference championship. (Jon Earnest)
Jon Earnest
Published December 12, 2023  • 
11:00 am

SANGER – It should be a compelling competition for Division I soccer supremacy this season, if the recent Reedley High-Sanger High non-league soccer is any indication.

In an emotional match that included three lead changes and some disputed calls down the stretch, the Apaches (3-2-2) had a potential tying goal disallowed on an offsides before drawing a violation in the box and scoring on a penalty shot in stoppage time to salvage a 3-3 tie with the Pirates (5-1-1) on Dec. 8. It capped a week of tight battles for both teams, as Reedley edged Dinuba 2-1 on Dec. 5 while Sanger fell 1-0 at reigning section champion Clovis North.

The two teams that battled for the Division I crown just two seasons ago (when Reedley blanked Sanger 1-0) are looking for possible return visits to the title game, but first will try to capture their respective conference championship races.

The Pirates finished second to Kerman in the Tri-County Conference’s Kings Canyon Division in 2022-23, but have started strong this season with wins over D-I schools Central and Bullard as well as Sac-Joaquin Section school Modesto High.

Sanger, meanwhile, is going after its fifth consecutive County Metro Athletic Conference crown. The Apaches have split their matches against Clovis schools, having defeated Buchanan by a 3-2 score before the close loss to Clovis North. Sanger also defeated CMAC rival Bullard and a shutout win over Redwood.

Here is a look at Mid Valley Times region teams by division:

DIVISION I

Reedley has its top three scorers returning in senior captains Jose Magallon (17 goals), Eduardo Vasquez (eight goals) and Alessandro Lopez (five goals). Other returning veterans are Esteban Baca and Brandon Beltran. The defense is bolstered by freshman goalkeeper Jesus Figueroa, and other young prospects faring well early are freshmen Angel Ceja and Jason Serrano.

“We’re getting these young guys in, and they’re passing with flying colors,” coach Eric Velarde said. “They’re listening and working, and the seniors are doing their part to allow them to flourish.”

Sanger also is powered by veteran players, including senior forward Hezekiah DeLeon (who scored three goals in a 6-0 win over Selma) and senior forward Santana Mercado (who had two of the Apaches’ three goals in the draw with Reedley). DeLeon also converted on a penalty shot in the waning moments against the Pirates. Seniors Sebastian Blanco and Nash Higsby are other returning veterans.

“It’s a really strong group of guys that we have right now that are out there doing some big stuff for us,” Apaches coach Alex Gutierrez said after the rout of Selma. “We’ve set a standard here, and anything less than a (section) championship just feels like we didn’t meet our goal.”

DIVISION III

Dinuba High (2-3) went 7-1-2 in last year’s West Yosemite League race, edging Mission Oak in a tiebreaker before dropping its playoff opener to Paso Robles in the section D-III bracket. This winter season, the Emperors won their first two over Justin Garza and Monache before dropping three straight with the most recent a 1-0 loss at Division I Buchanan.

Senior goalkeeper Bryan Baeza is Dinuba’s most experienced player, and both his play and field direction exhibits his leadership. Baez made two key saves to keep the Emperors in a position to rally from behind and almost tie Reedley on Dec. 5. Yovanni Hernandez had the team’s score.

The Emperors’ top WYL challenger this season appears to be Tulare Western, which finished third last season and is off to a 7-1 start. Mission Oak is 3-3-1 through Dec. 9, and the other league schools all have sub-.500 records.

DIVISION IV

Sanger West High’s second varsity season is showing marked improvement over the first. Coming off a 5-19-2 season and winless North Yosemite League campaign, the Hornets are 4-5-2 through 11 non-league matches. Four of those losses came at the competitive Harold S. Young Tournament.

The Hornets have just two seniors on the roster in defensemen Connor Phengsiri and Cesar Torres, and top returning scorers are juniors Jonaven Arevalo and Mario Solar. Junior goalkeeper Elijah Guevara is the backline of the defense.

The NYL looks to be another rugged challenge, as four teams are off to winning starts including defending champion Sunnyside.

Orosi High (6-3 through Dec. 9) is going after a second consecutive East Sequoia League crown after edging Strathmore by a half-game last season. The Cardinals dropped their final two games in the Lindsay Tournament, the latter a 3-0 shutout against Foothill of Bakersfield.

Sophomore striker Jonathan Lomecio leads the Orosi scoring attack with seven goals while senior striker Daniel Gonzalez Flores has six goals.

DIVISION V-VI

Parlier High (7-2) won its Northwest Sequoia League opener over Wonderful College Prep Academy, as the Panthers try to knock defending champion Riverdale from the league throne. The team features senior goalkeeper Christopher Reyes and fellow senior players Moises Aguirre (the team captain), Juan Pablo Lopez, Jovanny Garcia and Adrian Aguilar.

Fellow Division V school Orange Cove has dropped its first six games, including decisions to higher division schools Kingsburg, Madera South and Clovis. Veteran players are Julian Magdaleno, Alejandro Lopez, Alan Hernandez and Roman Virgen.

In Division VI, Immanuel High has won four and tied one in its first seven matches, and went 2-1 at the Garces Memorial Tournament that concluded on Dec 9. The Eagles are the only team in the Tri County Conference Sequoia Division to post a winning record so far this season.

Freshman Carter Zulik has scored a team-high six goals in five matches while senior Talen Case has three goals. Juniors Romauldo Quintal and Christian Van Doren have added two goals apiece.

Jon Earnest
Reporter