When leading scorer Amenah Munoz went down with a knee injury earlier this month, it meant the Golden Valley High girls soccer team would need someone to step up in her place.
Enter Ariana Severo.
The Cougars senior delivered on Wednesday night, beating two defenders to score the game-winning goal as Golden Valley defeated Merced 2-1 at Veterans Stadium.
The win combined with Turlock’s 2-1 win over Pitman, gives the Cougars (13-5-3 overall, 9-3 Central California Conference) their first outright conference championship in school history. Golden Valley’s only other CCC title was a co-championship with Turlock in 2013.
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“I think we got so close last year and we just built on the things we worked on this year,” said Golden Valley coach Ashley Faraone. “This year just proves to us and shows them all the hard work they put in this season. They are ecstatic. It’s a very exciting feeling for them.
“Everyone had a huge role in this.”
It was a slow start for both teams as the game was scoreless after the first half. Golden Valley had some scoring opportunities in the first half, including a shot by Severo that hit off the crossbar and goalie midway through the first half.
The Cougars struck first when Severo delivered a pass off a free kick from about 40 yards out to teammate Carlie Garcia. The fellow GV senior gathered the pass and fired from the near post to give the Cougars a 1-0 lead 5 minutes into the second half.
“That was a big momentum switch for us after a 0-0 half,” Faraone said. “We had opportunities to score in the first half but we couldn’t capitalize on them. It was nice to see one go into the net.”
Merced (10-8-2, 6-5-1 CCC) came into the game needing a win and a Turlock loss to clinch a berth into the postseason.
The Bears pulled even with GV with about 18 minutes left in the game as Hayley Espinoza scored on a penalty kick.
Ten minutes later, Severo delivered the winning goal.
Severo dribbled the ball from midfield, beating two Merced defenders, which set up a one-on-one opportunity with Bears goalie Amaya Valenzuela. The Merced keeper came out to try to stop Severo, but the Cougars midfielder got by Valenzuela and desposited the ball in the net for a 2-1 lead.
“I’ve never seen Ari make a run like that,” Faraone said. “She went through a couple players. She kept the ball close. The keeper came out, which is what she’s supposed to do. Ari just got past her and scored.
“She’s come up big the last couple games since Amenah has been out. We haven’t spoken about it, but she knows she has to step up. We asked her to step back to center midfield, but she still has to attack.”
Golden Valley will find out on Friday where and who they will face in the playoffs when the Sac-Joaquin Section releases the playoff brackets.
Atwater 1, Buhach Colony 1 in Atwater – Gerardo Delgadillo scored Atwater’s only goal. Jonathan Rodriguez scored for the Thunder (6-4-2 CCC), which qualify for the playoffs with the tie.
Buhach Colony goalie Adrian Bracamontes recorded six saves.