TRUCKEE, Calif. - It's tough to beat a good team three times in a row.
After twice losing to defending state champion Sparks this season, which entered Thursday's first-place showdown in Truckee with a perfect 20-0 record, the Truckee boys finally defeated the Railroaders in the third meeting, 2-0, in a well-played and hard-fought soccer game.
"We came out for the first time this season firing on all cylinders," said Truckee head coach Casey Eberhardt, whose team dropped 3-1 and 4-2 decisions to the Railroaders earlier this season. "We worked all week on our shape and formation, and as the game went on we gained more confidence and were able to keep up that momentum. It was a great game by both teams."
Truckee (19-2, 5-1 league), took the lead in the 32nd minute on a goal by Jesse Fereira. The senior captain received a through ball along the sideline before cutting back to the middle of the field, where he beat two defenders and found enough space to fire a shot from close range into the back of the net.
Sparks fought back and nearly knotted the score just minutes later when Vicente Cervantes took a free kick that was blocked by Truckee goalie Nacho Diaz. Juan Hernandez was in position to clean up the rebound, but Diaz made a diving, quick-reflex save on the attempt, and Nash McMullen alertly kicked the ball out of harm's way.
The Railroaders also had several shots ricochet off the crossbar or sail just over, while Diaz made several key saves. Sparks goalie Ronaldo Hernandez also saved a number of near goals by the Wolverines before he suffered an injury late in the game and had to be carried off the field.
The opening 20 minutes of the second half was evenly played, with both teams making runs but not converting. In the 62nd minute, however, Truckee broke through once more when Rolando Zarate sent a slicing, rocket shot from about 25 yards out past the diving reach of Hernandez.
"We played sluggish," said Sparks head coach Frank Avilla. "But all credit to Truckee. They were first to the ball today. Sparks and Truckee always play good games. But the season is not over. We're fine. We'll be ready for the next game."
Eberhardt said the Wolverines worked all week on maintaining their formation on offense and keeping their marks defensively. He was pleased with the effort and execution.
"Pretty much the entire team played well. We talked about needing a total team effort, and we got it," he said, adding that the Wolverines also tried to match Sparks' aggressiveness. "Our goal was to put high-intensity pressure on them, which is what they are kind of known for."
The top two teams in the Division I-A North, both with one loss in Mount Rose League play now, will likely meet again at least once, if not twice, in the postseason.
"It's definitely going to be a fight," Fereira said. "They don't go down easy. It's going to be a rough one."
After allowing an own goal in the seventh minute, the Truckee girls bounced back to score four unanswered goals in a 4-1 win.
Senior Olivia Duner scored the first of her two goals in the 29th minute, assisted by Kaylee Neil, to tie the score at 1-1. Senior Ashley Harris then gave the Wolverines the lead with an unassisted goal in the 35th minute.
In the second half, Duner pushed the lead to 3-1 on a free kick in the 66th minute, and Emma Warren rounded out the scoring with a goal assisted by Melissa Cardoza in the 68th minute.
"The beginning was a rough start," said Truckee head coach Katie Jamison. "The girls were sluggish, but they picked it up."
Truckee improved to 16-3-2 overall and 4-0-2 in Mount Rose League play.