With a perfect flick of his head, Sergio Gonzalez started the avalanche that carried McLane High into its first Central Section boys soccer final in 29 years.
Gerardo Palomar took Gonzalez’s well-placed header near midfield in stride and raced down the left side before sending a low liner to the far post in the 9th minute, opening the floodgates for the second-seeded Highlanders’ 8-1 victory over No. 6 Orosi in a Division IV playoff semifinal.
McLane will play at top-seeded Washington, a 3-1 winner over No. 4 Kingsburg, at 6:30 p.m. Friday for the title.
“When we attack from the beginning, the goals fall,” Gonzalez said. “And from there it’s all up. We just had to keep on attacking.”
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McLane (15-9-2) earned its first section finals berth since losing to losing 2-1 against Edison for the Yosemite Division title in 1986, according to section historian Bob Barnett.
Goal No. 2 came when Steve Ramirez hammered home a rebounded field block in the 11th minute. Ramirez made it 3-0 with his second goal in the 19th, and Gonzalez put McLane up 4-0 in the 21st minute off a feed from Jose Sagrero.
“They were hungry for it,” said Ramiro Teran, the Highlanders’ 11th-year coach. “They really wanted it. So from the get-go, they were aggressive to the ball and wanted to score.”
McLane’s 4-0 first half also featured saves during one-on-one situations in the 8th and 18th minutes by goalkeeper Alexis Figueroa, who also outraced Orosi’s Larry Caballero to a ball at the top of the box and cleared it with a collision-causing slide around the 25th minute.
“It’s difficult, but I always focus in my mind that I have to block it,” Figueroa said. “I’m not scared to go get it.”
Figueroa’s play, Teran said, was game-changing as Orosi (14-9-1) never recovered. The Cardinals, who were averaging 2.6 goals per game, won the past two D-V titles before being promoted under the section’s competitive-equity system.
“He definitely kept us in the game early,” Teran said. “If they get a goal there, it’s a different game. Alexis, to me, he saved us.”
The Highlanders didn’t let up.
Jose Sagrero converted the first of his two goals in the 50th minute on a breakaway, and Jose Flores scored in the 56th.
Sagrero’s second breakaway came in the 58th minute, and Ivan Alanis raced past the defense off a set piece in the 67th before Orosi got its only goal from Jesus Quezada in the 69th.
After opening the season 10-2-2, McLane had a rough run through the North Yosemite League, dropping its first four games and finishing last at 3-7.
The Highlanders turned it on in the postseason, however, outscoring Arvin and Orosi by a combined score of 11-1.
“When we got to league it really killed us and we lost all of our confidence,” Ramirez said. “But our coach really got us up again. Our goal was to make Valley, and it’s a great feeling to make it.”
McLane has never won a boys soccer title, according to Barnett, also losing 2-1 against Hoover in the section’s first Yosemite Division final in 1974. Washington has never won it all either, losing to Kerman 4-1 in the D-IV final last season and 3-1 to Garces in the Sequoia Division championship in 1992.