Hanford might be the Mid-Valley League boys soccer champions, but the Falcons can't figure out how to beat the Sunnyside Grizzlies to save their lives.
A week to the day after Sunnyside defeated Hanford on its home field to capture a State tournament berth, the Grizzlies repeated the task. But this time around the Grizzlies, the 3A Regional champs, got to do it on their home field. Sunnyside took care of Hanford before a capacity home crowd last night in the opening round of the 3A State tournament, 2-1, in a game where keeper Johnny Hernandez was once again the hero.
Yesterday marked the fifth time in the last six games that Sunnyside has beaten Hanford.
Hernandez blocked a penalty kick by Hanford in the final minute to secure the win for the Grizzlies.
"He is doing great on penalty kicks," said Sunnyside Coach Juan Pineda of Hernandez. "He has a special sense to read which way the person is going to take the shot."
Hernandez has 10 saves on 22 penalty shots this season, including shots taken in shootouts. Hernandez stopped two shots in a shootout last week against Hanford to send the Grizzlies to State. Pineda said this figure is notable because a goalie usually only has a 10 percent chance of stopping a penalty kick.
The Grizzlies are now one game away from accomplishing their preseason goal of being one of the four best 3A soccer teams in the State. Sunnyside will get to compete for that honor on their home field Saturday at 1:30 p.m. against Cheney. The Grizzlies beat the Blackhawks on their home field last Saturday for the Regional championship. The winner of Saturday's game will be one of four teams traveling to Camas Memorial Day weekend to compete in the State trophy round.
Hanford was rocked right from the start in yesterday's opening round game. The Grizzlies scored early, at the third minute, when Junior Garcia found Luis Galvan off a throw in. Galvan flicked the ball with his head to teammate Miguel Galvan, who put the ball past Hanford keeper Drew Curry.
The Falcons struggled to move the ball past midfield early in yesterday's game. Hanford didn't get anything past a tight marking Grizzly defense until the 10th minute of the first half, when Jared Akers scored from an assist by Jason Reno. In one of his only few mistakes on the day, Hernandez came too far out of the box to challenge for the ball and Akers put a dribbler in past Hernandez.
Sunnyside's Silvano Ramos was the Grizzly to finally put the ball in the net off an exciting exchange from a corner kick at the 18th minute of the first half. Hanford kept managing to block shot after shot off the corner kick and while the ball was bouncing around a few times Ramos managed to lay a foot on it and find the back of the net.
The Grizzlies took their shots at Curry all day in the box. Sunnyside outshot Hanford 16 to 8 on goal. The Grizzlies missed several scoring opportunities in both the first and second halves that Curry either got to or the shot would hit the bar or go wide.
Hernandez finished with four saves while Curry had seven.
What has worked for the Grizzlies against Hanford is their ability to mark tightly against a Falcon offense that enjoys playing the ball in the air and feeds off crossing plays. Hanford simply couldn't get going yesterday. Sunnyside challeneged every contested ball that Hanford would get a foot on. The Falcons tried a new game plan of sorts in yesterday's game, as they tried to bring Sunnyside's defenders more to the center of the field in hopes of opening up the outside. But that didn't work either, as the Grizzlies dominated play.
"We put them on their heels right away," said Pineda. "When they wanted to cross the ball we were on them. (When they wanted to head a ball) our players were jumping with them."
Pineda said the second half was very competitive, as the Falcons tried to open up their game offensively by utilizing more of their midfielders. Pineda said the difference in the game was simply the way Sunnyside challenged every ball and stopped Hanford from exploiting the blind spots on the field.
"The boys are showing me more each time," said Pineda. "I am so happy for our program."
Pineda is expecting another tight contest Saturday against Cheney. His Grizzlies struggled against the Blackhawks in the second half of last week's Regional championship game.
"If we play well both halves, we will get Cheney," said Pineda.