Tulare Union pulls off late season surge and finish in first place tie with Mission Oak
TULARE – Over the last eight years, the East Yosemite League (EYL) championship has gone to either Tulare Union or Mission Oak. This year’s title will go to those two schools yet again, but in a different way as both teams tie for first after finishing with identical 6-1-1 records.
At the beginning of last week, Mission Oak was in control of the league championship and needed one more win in their final league game of the season. They lost that game to Tulare Union after the two teams tied 2-2 in their first meeting.
Tulare Union followed the tie up with their lone league loss to Tulare Western, so they understood the magnitude of the second half of their EYL schedule. They went on a dominant 5-0 winning streak and allowed one goal in garbage time to Porterville in an 8-1 victory.
The Tribe are coming off back-to-back EYL championships. They had no doubt in their mind that they’d secure a third, after returning a majority of their starting lineup from last year.
A big part of their success in recent years has been the program’s leader in career goals scored, senior Jesus Enriquez. He broke the previous career record of 60 goals scored during his junior season, and spent this season adding on to it as he is now at 87. He finished last year with 32 goals scored, which broke the school’s single season scoring record of 24. According to head coach Mike Shaffer, Enriquez is able to take over a game anytime he has the ball. He’s been the team’s best offensive player for three years straight.
The program’s leading goal scorer was actually very close to attending school at Mission Oak. His older cousin Anthoni Martin was a senior captain on the team at Tulare Union during his eighth-grade year, and convinced him to join The Tribe.
Enriquez credits his competitive edge to family members like Martin, who helped him fall in love with the game at an early age. Martin now plays at University of California Merced and Enriquez will be joining him there next year where the two will play on the same team for the first time.
After defeating Mission Oak, Tulare Union needed to defeat Tulare Western in their final league game in order to officially be tied for first. They lost 3-1 to the Mustangs in their first matchup, and the second game was extremely close and competitive. The game went 80 minutes without a score before Enriquez scored the game winning goal. It was an ecstatic moment for the senior and his teammates. While celebrating the goal, Enriquez was given a red card by referees who docked him for taunting his opponents.
As a result, Tulare Union will be without their leading scorer for their first playoff game. They have a bye for the first round so they’ll be missing Enriquez in their second-round matchup. That game will be at Bob Mathias Stadium on May 20 at 6 p.m. They’ll face the winner of Dinuba and Pioneer Valley.
Nonetheless, the team’s goal since the beginning of the season has been to win the Valley Championship. Without Enriquez, they’ll focus on minimizing mistakes and making the most out of their opportunities.