CHICO — After a pair of close, competitive contests with Paradise High — one of which was a 1-0 loss on the road — the Pleasant Valley girls soccer coach Brett Silva knew Thursday”s game against the Bobcats would be another stiff challenge.
He also understood what kind of talent his team possesses, and on this day it was Gracie Hernandez that stole the show for the Vikings.
The senior forward and future Purdue Boilermaker scored two second-half goals to put PV on top for good, en route to a 3-1 Eastern Athletic League win at home over the Bobcats, clinching the league championship for the second straight year under Silva in the process.
“We weren”t supposed to win league this year; we lost 12 seniors from last year, so we weren”t supposed to pull this off,” Silva said.
Trailing 1-0 after Paradise”s Elisabeth Earley converted a tap-in goal from point-blank range off a cross from Ali Rank, PV (15-2-2, 9-1-1 EAL) equalized two minutes later, when sophomore Karina Torres buried a penalty kick past Paradise keeper Kaylah Kempton-Anderson.
But as Silva noted, the real offensive firepower came in the second half, after he made a “tactical” change to get the Vikings” horses in gear. It started with senior Laney Nelson getting deep in the Paradise box for an opportunity that she nearly converted — with the shot sailing right of the goal at the 41st minute.
One minute later, Hernandez, who won”t be playing soccer in college as she agreed to a swimming scholarship at Purdue, put PV in front for the first time in the game, 2-1.
“Second half we had to play harder,” Silva said. “They were playing harder than we were, and the other thing was there was a couple tactical changes & They were doing something defensively that confused us once I realized what it was we made the change and within a minute we had a goal.”
Paradise, which will likely finish third in league behind Chico even with wins over Oroville and Las Plumas next week, kept coming. At the 60th minute, the Bobcats converted another cross to get the ball within a few feet of Vikings keeper Brenna Meier, who recorded one of her five saves to turn Paradise away.
Four minutes later, Hernandez struck again on a break-away play where she sailed the ball into the right corner of the goal for a 3-1 lead at the 65th minute.
Despite giving up a pair of goals in the second half, Paradise senior defender Kristen Paul remained proud of the Paradise defense.
“Sometimes we breakdown for a minute and PV and Chico are really strong teams, but I think all together we played a very strong game,” she said. “We marked, we got to balls so I think it was a strong game for us.”
It”s onto next week, where PV, Paradise and Chico will wrap up the regular season looking to secure high seeds for the the first Northern Section playoffs since soccere returned to being a winter sport. The Vikings, Panthers and Bobcats haven”t been able to compete in the section playoffs because they played in the spring. Now the playoffs are back for the first time since 2003, when Chico defeated PV on penalty kicks to capture the section championship.
Pleasant Valley 7, Paradise 0
The PV boys have had their way with Paradise this season, winning 10-0 and 6-1 in two previous games.
On Thursday, PV again blistered a short-handed Bobcat squad and won 7-0 to sweep the regular season series between the two schools.
Porter Sillars registered a hat trick with three goals, and Ian Melton, Brandon Sauceda, Adrian Jauregui and Daniel Celis added a goal apiece.
Vikings goalie Aaron Vought made two saves for the shutout.
Paradise dropped to 3-12-2 overall and 1-7-2 in league, while PV improved to 10-3-1 overall and 9-2 in the EAL. Moreover, the Vikings remain in contention for the league title, trailing Chico by a game with one to play.
PV plays at 3:15 p.m. Tuesday at Las Plumas.
Paradise wraps up the regular season at home against Oroville and Las Plumas next week
Connect with Paradise Post Sports Editor Jeff Larson on Twitter @jtlarson.