Esperanza gains ground in the Century League
ANAHEIM-With aspirations of a third straight Century League title beginning to slip away, the Esperanza Aztecs entered their match Tuesday with the first place Villa Park Spartans knowing that a win was critical.
Early match set piece execution and a stout overall defensive effort ultimately helped them tighten up the league standings.
Junior Paige Railey scored on a corner kick less than a minute into the match, as Esperanza edged No. 7 Villa Park, 1-0, Tuesday at Esperanza High.
“Villa Park had been on a winning streak, so this win gives our team extreme confidence,” Railey said.
Esperanza (9-5-4; 3-1-2) is now in sole possession of third place four points behind first place Villa Park (12-5-4; 5-1) and two points behind second place Canyon. All three teams have completed the first half of their 12-match league schedule.
For the second straight season, the Spartans failed in their attempt to win their sixth straight league match after opening league play with five straight wins. Villa Park had outscored its league opposition 21-2 during its’ five match league winning streak.
“We had a hiccup early in league and we played a team (Villa Park) that had all the momentum,” Aztecs coach John King said. “This win was special for us and will hopefully propel us into the latter half of the season.”
Esperanza wasted little time in scoring the only goal of the match. Fifty seconds into the match, junior Lauren Guerra lofted a corner kick into the box that Railey managed to fish out and head a shot that tucked into the near post corner of the goal.
“I was on the back post waiting for the ball,” Railey said. “Once I saw the ball, I wanted to do anything that I could to get it in the goal.”
Though Villa Park sophomore Bethany Sutherland produced two shots in the first 10 minutes, the Aztecs defense did a stellar job early in the half of not allowing the Spartans to control possession and set up quality opportunities in the attacking third.
Villa Park managed to get pressure late in the half, but Aztecs sophomore goalie Katelyn Sullivan produced two saves in the final 10 minutes to prevent any scoring.
Though Esperanza outshot Villa Park 5-2 in the second half, the Spartans managed to get late possessions in the middle and attacking thirds.
Big defensive clearances from Aztecs senior Nosa Ogiamien in the final three minutes helped stall Villa Park’s final attacks and close out the win for Esperanza.
King praised the defensive effort of his team against a Spartans team that had scored five goals in three of its last four matches.
“They have some special players and we focused on limiting some of the players that had been scoring goals for them,” King said.
Spartans coach Brent Whitfield credited the Aztecs’ ability to convert early in the match.
“We didn’t have a good start and they capitalized on their early set piece,” he said. “We had to play catch up and were unlucky not to be able to get a goal.”
Whitfield also acknowledged that his team doesn’t want a repeat of last year’s script. After winning their first five league matches, the Spartans won only three of their final seven and failed to win the league title.
“Esperanza is the reigning champions until someone proves otherwise,” he said. “We have to regroup, get focused on El Modena, and make sure what happened last year doesn’t happen again.”