FRESNO – An additional 24-hour wait and a change in venue turned out to be worth championship gold to the Sanger High girls soccer team on Thursday afternoon.
Less than a day after a rainstorm washed out Senior Night game action on Feb. 7, the Apaches had to try to secure a County Metro Athletic Conference title in Fresno instead of their home field at Tom Flores Hall of Fame Stadium. But the team responded in championship fashion, wiping out an early deficit to down the Bullard High Knights 2-1 at San Joaquin Memorial High stadium on Thursday afternoon.
The comeback victory secured the outright CMAC crown for Sanger (17-3-2, 9-1) by half a game over Bullard, which prevailed in a 2-1 battle in the first round late last month. It also improved the Apaches’ Division I playoff seeding, which will be determined when the brackets are released on Saturday, Feb. 10.
Head coach Jesse Camarena praised his team for its poise and performance in difficult circumstances, given the move of the match to Fresno and a slow start leading to an early uphill climb.
“We know this was a playoff atmosphere game, and we knew what was at stake,” he said. “(They) came out and performed tonight, and I’m super proud of them. They fought the whole way, and at the end of the day there’s nothing I can do but just be proud.”
Sanger fell behind in the 18th minute, as a handball violation in the box led to a penalty shot goal from Aniston Renovato. That came moments after an apparent opening goal by Royce Kilby was whistled off because of an offsides call.
But the Apaches quickly responded, continuing to increase the offensive pressure in Bullard’s end of the field. In the 22nd minute, Kilby found an opening from the left wing off a feed from Andrea Alverenga and drilled a shot past Knights’ goalkeeper Korra Rambonga to tie the score.
“She’s been going through some ups and downs, like every other kid and every other athlete,” Camarena said of sophomore striker Kilby. “I’m super proud of her, she really needed the goal.”
Kilby’s goal energized Sanger’s team and large fan following, and the play gradually was controlled by the Apaches for much of the remainder of the match. The defense was especially effective behind the steady play of junior goalkeeper Corryn Bravo.
In the second half, Sanger quickly took charge. Senior midfielder Alverenga, the team’s leading scorer this season, converted an attack on net in the 43rd minute to put the Apaches ahead for good. It was her 22nd goal of the season.
Camarena expected a strong response from the team in the final 40 minutes.
“We knew this was just a matter of time,” he said, “I told the ladies at halftime to be patient, the ball’s gonna come and eventually we’ll get (scoring) chances. When we have ours, we’ve got to put the ball in the net.”
The defense did the rest, protecting the lead from a few Bullard offensive challenges in the final 10 minutes. When the final whistle sounded, the team jumped in celebration of securing a third consecutive CMAC title.
“A team like (Bullard) and a team like us, if we played each other 10 times it will go 50-50 every single time,” Camarena said of the victory. “So It doesn’t matter whether we played yesterday, tomorrow or Saturday, they’re a good team.”
The girls-boys doubleheader at SJM included a 4-0 Senior Night victory by the Sanger High boys against Madera High, wrapping up a share of the CMAC crown with Edison. The Apaches (15-5-3 overall) and Tigers (15-4-2) both finished 9-2-1, although Edison won both conference meetings. Senior Bryan Murillo scored twice while fellow seniors Nash Higby and Santana Mercado added goals against Madera