Boys Soccer: Tulare Union and Tulare Western to battle for 1st place

The Tribe has a one-game lead over the Mustangs and can stand alone in first place with a win

By Jermaine Johnson II

PORTERVILLE – It all comes down to the final game of the season for Tulare Union and Tulare Western. The Tribe are in first place and can earn the East Yosemite League title with a win today, Wednesday, Feb. 5 at 6 p.m. But if the Mustangs can pull out a victory on the road at Bob Mathias Stadium, then the two teams will share the crown. 

It will be a fitting finish for the competitive EYL. As of last week, four different teams had a shot at the title. Porterville defeated Tulare Western 2-1, but then lost to Tulare Union 2-0, essentially ruined their chances. In Mission Oak’s last two games they tied with the Mustangs 1-1 and then tied with the Tribe 0-0. If they would’ve won both of those games then they would have a shot at a potential three-way tie for first place if Tulare Western were to defeat Tulare Union. 

“Our league is always like this; anybody can beat anybody so you never know. I like it because as we head into playoffs then we have already been playing good teams,” Porterville head coach Eddie Gutierrez said. “The EYL is going to have good representatives in the playoffs. It is good to see the local teams do well and be strong.”

His team was not too far off from keeping their hopes alive in a game against Tulare Union last Tuesday. Gutierrez admitted that a few sloppy plays ended up costing his team the game. 

“Their set pieces [were the difference in the game.] The balls they were playing were a lot better than ours,” he said. “They were putting the ball in dangerous spots and their players were getting to them. We had a couple good chances but our services were not very good.”

The Tribe were playing without their second-leading goal scorer Marco Jasso. According to head coach Mike Shaffer, a few players stepped up and played well in his absence. Their leader Jesus Enriquez continued making his case for EYL player of the year. He scored his 30th goal within the first 10 minutes of the match. The ball came into the box and he perfectly timed the header for the game’s only goal of the first half. 

Enriquez’s 30 goals are a new school record for a single season. He also has the most career goals in Tulare Union boys’ soccer history despite only being in his junior year. After scoring 21 goals as a freshman on varsity, Enriquez was determined to make school history. 

“After freshman year I found out I was close and I was ambitious and wanted to break it. Thanks to the team I was able to break both records,” he said. 

Of all the teams in California that track their stats on MaxPreps, Enriquez is fifth on the list in total points this season with 74. He could move up at most two spots or down four spots depending on what happens in this last week of the season.

Tulare Union’s defense was a bit shaky at first as Porterville kept the ball on their side early on, but they stood strong and didn’t allow any goals all night. The Panthers had their opportunities but continually missed the back of the net. As time expired in the first half, they had a prime chance to tie the score but the ball hit the bar on top of the goal. 

The Tribe’s offense showed more signs of life in the second half. They also misfired on some great opportunities. In the 75th minute they scored but as the whistle was blown as they were shooting and the point was waived off. Finally, a minute later, junior Isaac Rodriguez had a strong shot that found the back of the net to seal the 2-0 victory.

“Our guys are pretty focused and are taking it one game at a time, even though we have that goal of winning the league in the back of our mind because we let it slip last year in the last game,” Shaffer said. 

Tulare Union and Tulare Western were in a nearly identical situation in the last game of last season and the Mustangs won 3-1 at home. Tulare Union won the first matchup three weeks ago by scoring two goals in overtime. 

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