As intense winds swept through Ridgeview High Tuesday night, kicking up huge clouds of dirt from the track and shrouding the soccer field in a beige fog, the Wolf Pack maintained a laser-like focus.
At the one point in its Central Section semifinal when it seemed like Fresno-Sunnyside had built some momentum — early in the second half, after an incisive pass from Sergio Quevedo to Hariz Funez created a Jeffrey Guerra equalizer — Ridgeview got just the play it needed to quell the comeback.
Chris Chavez Sanchez took possession of the ball at the edge of the box in the 55th minute, whirled around to earn space from the Wildcat defense, and fired a long-distance shot from right to left over the head of the Sunnyside goalie, restoring Ridgeview’s lead. Senior striker Hugo Viramontes pounced on a poorly timed bobble by the keeper late to give the Wolf Pack an insurance goal and kneecap the Wildcats’ attack, sealing a 3-1 result and a berth in the Division I section championship.
Ridgeview, the second seed in the bracket, will face No. 1 Clovis North, 3-1 winners Tuesday night against No. 5 Visalia-Golden West. The Wolf Pack and Broncos will play Saturday at 1 p.m. in Clovis.
The Wolf Pack, which still has suffered just one loss on the season, had also scored three goals in Thursday’s win over Visalia-El Diamante, and looked set to continue apace from the opening moments Tuesday, with a goal nullified by offside just three-and-a-half minutes in. Chavez Sanchez, off a failed clearance on a free kick, and Viramontes, from a long run up the left wing, each had early chances sail wide right.
Instead, it was Josh Bryant who broke the ice 15 minutes in, seizing on a chipped ball from Viramontes and outpositioning the Sunnyside central back, then sending a header over the goalie and in for a 1-0 lead.
The Wildcats were able to press forward a bit more as the midpoint of the first half approached, relying heavily on long throw-ins by left back Tyren Simpson to generate offense. But his first few went straight to Wolf Pack keeper Jonathan Salazar and left Sunnyside vulnerable to counter-attacks. In general, the Ridgeview defense was strong around the edge of the box to prevent quality shots from the Wildcats.
In the 26th minute, Simpson tried to throw it in short instead, but Bryant made a key steal and charged upfield in a 3-on-1 run. The ball deflected right to a wide-open Viramontes, but he was ruled offside again to end the threat.
After Guerra’s goal and Chavez Sanchez’s response, Sunnyside nearly had its second equalizer when Funez sent a low bouncing ball toward the bottom left corner of the goal off another Simpson throw. But Salazar was positioned well and wrapped it up cleanly.
Viramontes’ goal sapped what little energy the Wildcats had left after running up and down the field defending the counter-attack all night. Quevedo was in good position to redirect a Funez free kick in stoppage time, but could only muster a weak bouncing volley that went out right. The referee blew the final whistle a few minutes later.
Reporter Henry Greenstein can be reached at 661-395-7374. Follow him on Twitter: @HenryGreenstein.