Panthers reign supreme in Central Section championship

Porterville’s Jay Ibarra celebrates the Panthers’ Division III Central Section Championship. With the Central Valley title, the Panthers qualified for the Division III CIF SoCal Championships.(Dosu Did it Photography/Nayirah Dosu)

Porterville boys soccer holds off Chavez for a 2-1 overtime victory in the Division III Central Section Championship game; Efren Herrera came through with goal in overtime to give the Panthers the win

PORTERVILLE – This past Friday night at Porterville College, the Division III Central Section Championship game needed overtime to determine a winner between Porterville boys soccer and visiting Chavez. At the end of regulation, the No. 1 seed Panthers and the No. 3 seed Titans had fought to a 1-1 draw.

Needing a play, Efren Herrera came through for the Panthers with a goal to give his team the 2-1 lead. Porterville then held off Chavez through the rest of overtime to secure the win on Feb. 23 to win the Central Valley title.

“It was a pretty emotional night,” Porterville head coach Eddie Gutierrez said. “We knew we had a good team and that we had a good shot to go all the way so it was just very emotional. These boys have worked hard since day one.”

The championship was a reward for a group of seniors that dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic their freshmen year and had to push through further adversity the following year. It was also the second Central Valley title for Gutierrez, as he won a championship as a player for the Porterville Panthers back in 2001.

While he enjoyed winning a title as a player, it does not compare to now winning one as the head coach for the program.

“It was just amazing winning it as a coach,” Gutierrez said. “You just have so much more time invested. Being there every day from day one picking up cones, airing up soccer balls and watching the scrimmages. There’s just a lot of stuff that goes behind the scenes that people don’t see.”

Early in the contest, the Panthers took the lead when Isaac Angeles came through with the goal. But the Titans responded with a goal on a penalty kick to tie the game, 1-1, heading into halftime. Neither team scored in the second half as the match went to overtime. While the Panthers could not break through with another goal, Gutierrez was proud of the defense for its play.

“We were doing a good job defensively as we were very organized,” Gutierrez said. “We couldn’t break through and score but the boys came out and played really well in the second half.”

In overtime, Herrera came through with the go-ahead goal to give the Panthers the lead. The Porterville defense then finished strong to secure the Central Valley title and improve to 25-3-3. The Panthers will next compete in the Division III CIF SoCal Championships. As the Panthers head on the road to face some tough teams from Southern California, the Panthers will look to play their game and try to go on a run.

“I feel like when we’re playing good ball, we can compete against anybody but we know it’s going to be tough,” Gutierrez said. “It’s going to be a long road trip but I think we’ll just give it our best shot and see how it goes.”

Miners derailed by Foothill

As the No. 8 seed in the Division II Central Section Championships, El Diamante boys soccer has gone on quite the run through the postseason. But that run came to an end this past Friday night, as the Miners suffered a 3-1 road loss to Foothill in the championship match.

“We started off strong getting a goal first but in the second half, Foothill just came out on fire,” El Diamante head coach Agustin Gonzalez said. “Within five to six minutes, they were able to score three goals and we were never able to catch up to them.”

The loss in the title game dropped the Miners to 17-7-5 this season. They won three straight playoff games to reach the championship game, including two on the road against higher seeds, but the Miners could not hold back the Foothill Trojans.

The Miners started the night strong with a goal from Roberto Marquez to take a 1-0 lead in the first half. But the Trojans got hot in the second half with three goals to take the lead and control of the game. The Miners were unable to respond as a Central Valley title slipped away.

“Foothill had the motivation because they were down one and our boys had settled down a little bit and stopped attacking,” Gonzalez said about the second half. “We were trying to score and we missed some opportunities. Once Foothill scored that one, I think it just went downhill from there.”

Despite the loss, the Miners still qualified for the Division II CIF NorCal Championships. As the Miners look to rebound from this loss, Gonzalez told his team that they only have to win three matches to bring home a championship.

“We just have to try and make another run,” Gonzalez said. “There’s only three games now against tougher competition but it’s three games that we have to try and win.”

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