Eldorado’s girls soccer team played flat in the first half of Thursday’s match at Rancho.
Freshman Crystal Mendoza had the perfect antidote.
Mendoza scored with about 10 minutes to play to help Eldorado edge the Rams 1-0 and remain unbeaten in Northeast League play.
The forward took a pass from Jacquie Avila, then buried a shot just inside the far post for the lone score and the win.
“I’m thinking, ‘oh no, I’m going to miss it,’” Mendoza said. “But I had to make that one. I got nervous when it hit the post, and I said, ‘oh no!’ But it went in, and we got the win.”
The Sundevils (14-1-1, 11-0-1 Northeast) have already wrapped up a regular-season league title, holding an 11-point lead on second-place Las Vegas with two matches remaining.
The lead is largely due to Eldorado’s defense, which has only surrendered five goals to Northeast opponents, including a 1-1 tie at Las Vegas on Jan. 5.
That defense was on full display in the first half Thursday, when the Rams (7-10-3, 5-4-3) outshot the Sundevils, 5-2. But Rancho’s Lucy Luevanos mustered the only shot on frame, and Eldorado goalkeeper Nias Olaiz made the easy save to preserve the shutout.
“Soccer takes a lot of your time, and you’ve got to use that time wisely,” Mendoza said. “You have to show what you have (each match), show what the coach has taught you, stand up for your team and make sure you’re always there for them. And then you can make everyone proud.”
Eldorado put Rancho on its heels after the break with a 7-2 shots advantage that included five shots on goal.
Olaiz finished with three saves in the shutout.
“Everybody asks us about it, and we’re all so happy to make the playoffs,” Mendoza said. “But now we want to get past the first round. It’s a great feeling; people come around every single day, and they get excited that we made the playoffs.”
After easing into the Sunrise Region playoffs for the past two years, Eldorado’s junior and senior class has stepped up to provide key leadership and experience, which coach Gerald Pentsil said is key to the team’s success.
“We’ve been very young the last couple of years; those youngsters are now juniors and seniors,” Pentsil said. “The last few years, we’ve had four or five freshmen starters on varsity. That maturation has now come through. This year, we only have two freshmen on varsity.
“We’ve had more seniors who start, and they play a big role. For the first time, our captains are all seniors.”
Senior forward Alexis Sama leads a balanced offense with 18 goals. The Sundevils have outscored opponents, 57-10.
“Her experience calms them down a lot,” Pentsil said of Sama. “Crystal is a freshman, and she plays off of (Sama). It helps to have a girl who was on varsity since her freshman year as a senior forward now.”
The Sundevils have relied on junior Olaiz and sophomore Hannah Pewtress in goal, as well as the strong presence of central defender Brandy Sanchez.
“She’s an all-conference defender, for sure,” Pentsil said of Sanchez. “She’s got the experience, and nothing beats experience on defense.”