BY STEPHEN LYNCH Special to The Californian
Beating South in overtime was huge. And taking down Ridgeview and Mira Monte were more steps in the right direction. But the West High boys soccer team's biggest move toward becoming the South Yosemite League's team to beat came Tuesday night when the Vikings handed perennial power Golden Valley a 3-1 loss and wrapped of the first half of SYL play with a perfect record.
Learsi Cruz, Jovany Cachola and Rey Hernandez scored goals for host West (12-3-1, 4-0 SYL), which built a 3-0 lead en route to the dominating victory.
Cruz scored just 30 seconds into the game, firing a hard, shoulder-high shot that went off the fingertips of Golden Valley goalkeeper Hector Pineda and into the back of the net.
The goal set the tone for the rest of the game, as West controlled most of the action until late.
"I'm not going to lie, it feels pretty good," West senior captain Marshall Garcia said. "They (Golden Valley) were pretty darn good last year, winning Valley Division II. Had great players. But we also have to take into consideration that they lost a lot of seniors. But the thing is, they're still a good team. You have to give credit to us because we capitalized. We finished our opportunities."
West finished with 10 shots on goal compared to 8 for Golden Valley (11-4-5, 0-1-2 SYL).
Most of the Bulldogs' offensive push came in the final 20 minutes when they were down by three goals.
Brian Cano scored with just less than 14 minutes remaining to keep Golden Valley from being shut out.
"West is just a really developed team," Golden Valley coach Dominic Othart said. "They move the ball so well. But I think what really killed us is they started off from minute one with pressure -- high, aggressive -- and we just didn't respond well to it. We kind of buckled under the pressure there."
Despite Cano's late goal, West has outscored its four SYL opponents 12-2 this year.
"I'm very pleased," West coach Brock Snider said. "Obviously we have some very talented players, and at times we play very well together. Sometimes we make some mental mistakes and some errors they know they shouldn't make, but they're kids. ...Overall (we've shown) talent, ability, effort and that we have a couple of great leaders, who keep these guys organized."
West goalkeeper Josh Epstein had seven saves. Golden Valley's two goalkeepers, Pineda and Luis Reyes, combined for six saves.
Leading 2-0, Garcia helped extend the Viking lead further early in the second half, making a beautiful pass to Hernandez for a score.
"I intercepted the pass and then then kind of took a big touch forward past two guys," Garcia said. "He (Hernandez) made a great run. He opened the space for himself, and he gave me an easy pass. So half the credit goes to him. I gave him the assist and he finished pretty smoothly."
Cachola's goal to make it 2-0 came with just more than five minutes left in the first half. Mark Mathews deftly flicked the ball ahead with the top of his head to Cachola, who raced past the final defender and then slotted a low shot just inside the far post.
The victory puts West all alone in first place in the SYL, a spot usually reserved for the Bulldogs, who have won eight straight league titles.
The Vikings have to play all of their four remaining league games on the road.
"It feels pretty good, but it's just half the season so we can't get too cocky," Garcia said. "We're staying humble. (We're) 4-0. We're going to go for 8-0. We're going to play as a team and we're going to fight hard."