Shivering furiously and covered in mud from shoulder to toe, Golden Valley senior Julian Zamora needed only a brief reminder to feel heat again.
His Bulldogs had just held off Fresno-Sunnyside 2-1 in the Central Section Division II semifinals Tuesday at Golden Valley, and so Zamora knew he was about to get a third -- and final -- chance at a Valley title.
The previous two ended in heartbreak via penalty-kick shootout.
"It means a lot," Zamora said. "I've been in two Valleys where we lost in PKs, so this is a pretty big deal."
Golden Valley will play host to No. 2 seed Porterville-Monache at 7 p.m. Friday in the championship game.
The Bulldogs (23-3-1) started quickly on Tuesday, grabbing a 2-0 lead in the first 20 minutes on breakaway goals by Kevin Hernandez in the 15th minute and by Zamora five minutes later. Both took their shots from the right side and beat Sunnyside goalkeeper Javier Ramos to the far post with nifty shots.
"Finally, we finished," Golden Valley coach Dominic Othart said. "That's been one of our weaknesses lately. We scored a bunch of goals early in the season but not lately.
"And we knew with the weather, we had to take care of business early."
Ah yes, the weather. The game started in just a sprinkling of rain, but it quickly escalated into a downpour that was joined near halftime by repeated gusts of winds.
Sunnyside (13-6-1) employed an offside trap with its defense, keeping all four defenders pushed up together near midfield, in hopes of preventing Golden Valley from keeping possession deep in Sunnyside territory.
For the most part, the strategy worked: Golden Valley was called offside more than a dozen times, often by razor-thin margins. But the Bulldogs hit the lottery twice early on the breakaway goals.
"It's hard playing against that trap," Othart said. "We didn't know anything about that coming in. But that's what we've said: 'This is our season. If we play our game, we'll take our chances.'"
From there, Golden Valley had to hang on. Sunnyside scored with 22 minutes left on a laser free kick from Epi Martinez that landed in the upper right corner of the net. The Wildcats then had a few chances to equalize, most notably in the final five minutes when a handball on the goalkeeper resulted in a rare indirect free kick from within the Golden Valley penalty box.
Sunnyside sent it off of the Golden Valley wall. The Bulldogs cleared and hung for victory and one more shot at glory for their seniors.
"Our goal this season has been the Valley finals; we didn't care about league, tournaments, whatever. These seniors have been close, but they're the only class in Golden Valley history without that ring. Now we need to take care of business on Friday."