Brian Nevarez wanted the pressure, the ball and the chance to lift Pacheco High School to its first Sac-Joaquin Section boys soccer championship.
Thanks to goalkeeper Jesus Lopez, he got it.
Lopez made two sprawling saves in the penalty-kick shootout to turn the spotlight on Nevarez, the final shooter in the first five.
The San Jose State-bound playmaker went left, Sierra’s keeper went right, and the second-seeded Panthers went way up in celebration after a 1-1 (4-3) victory over the No. 8 Timberwolves in the Division IV section final at Elk Grove High School.
“No pressure,” Nevarez said. “It was time for redemption. I was nice and calm and got the job done. I was more than glad it was me.”
The section title is the first in any sport in Pacheco’s seven-year history. The Panthers took a 1-0 lead in the 60th minute on a strike from Pablo Ortiz, but Sierra forced extra time with a free-kick score by Eriq Kurys.
Kurys’ shot from the sideline curled over a three-man wall and through the hands of Lopez, who atoned for his mistake in the shootout.
Kevin Mendiola set up the free kick with a spin move on the boundary. Beaten down the line, a Pacheco defender clipped Mendiola’s ankle.
All of that was lost in celebration. Pacheco (20-2-4) bounced along the sideline as fans poured out of the bleachers.
“Well, onto the next one,” Pacheco coach Wes Wing said of the title. “There were a few minutes there when momentum was going their way, but the guys did a really good job of getting back in. We were controlling and creating all the opportunities from there. Full credit to these guys; they were mentally tough.”
No one was tougher than Nevarez and Lopez, who earned redemption in the shootout.
Reading his opponent’s body language, Lopez made two saves at the left post. Each time, he went low.
“I had to make up for it,” Lopez said. “I had confidence. You just have to look at the direction of his foot and read the angles.”
Wing said a big key, though, was Lopez “parking” his disappointment after allowing the equalizer in the 70th minute.
“I’m a goalkeeper coach and I played the position, so I know how that goes,” Wing said. “He did an excellent job bouncing back. When that kind of thing happens, you have to park it and leave it where it is, and then move on. He did a really good job of that.”
Lopez handed the baton to Nevarez, who stepped to the spot with his own issues. Nevarez missed more than a month of the season because of a partially torn ligament in his ankle. He returned to the field in the semifinal round with his ankle heavily wrapped, logging only 20 minutes against Liberty Ranch.
On Saturday, he came off the bench late in the first half, announcing his presence with a bending shot to the far post. Goalkeeper Saul Aguiniga (five saves) corralled the ball, but it wouldn’t be the last time those two squared off.
Nevarez had to be helped off the field in the first overtime after re-injuring his ankle in a scrum along the goal line. He returned, though, proving himself fit enough to take part in the shootout.
Alfonso Gomez, Esteven Galindo and Mario Valtierra also scored in the shootout for Pacheco, which backed its Western Athletic Conference title with a section crown.
The biggest kick belonged to Nevarez, whose decorated career has been laced with heartache. Along with his injury, Nevarez missed two penalty kicks in the Panthers’ playoff loss to Dixon last year.
“It put everything to rest,” Wing said. “Last year, these guys went out early in the playoffs and Brian missed two penalties in regulation and PKs. You couldn’t have asked for a better finish.”
On Saturday, he left all of that frustration in the back of the net.
“This meant a lot. I’ve tried to come back (from the injury), but this is the first game I actually got to play more minutes in,” Nevarez said. “This means everything. This is our legacy. This is the first time in our school’s history someone has done this.”
Pacheco’s history-making feat trumped Sierra’s bid at history. Sierra arrived at Elk Grove with two programs chasing soccer banners and left empty-handed. The girls lost to Vista del Lago 3-1 in the Division III final, a game the boys watched go final.
Alex Mata, David Lopez and Kurys scored in the shootout for Sierra (17-9-3), which advanced to the final by upsetting No. 1 Galt and No. 4 Livingston.
The Sierra boys were making their second finals appearance. The Timberwolves were beaten in the 2006 D-IV final by Lincoln of Lincoln, 1-0 in overtime.
“They were good,” Nevarez said. “I wish we would have taken them out in regular time, but our finishing was off.”
Division III girls
Vista del Lago 3, Sierra 1 – Sandwiched by two defenders, Jadyn Shinn cut the ball back onto her right foot and struck a deflected shot into the goal.
However, one moment of brilliance wasn’t enough to erase a slow start by No. 2 Sierra (25-3).
Top-ranked Vista del Lago (19-2-3) took full advantage, scoring two goals in the first 23 minutes.
Payton Kaestner, Emily Ormson and Hannah Trengrove scored for the Eagles, an athletic bunch that crowded Shinn with multiple defenders. The sophomore with a verbal commitment to Notre Dame scored her 42nd goal of the season in the 38th minute but had little space to operate in the second half.
For Vista del Lago, the section banner is its second overall and first since 2012.