Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
The Madera South Stallions boys soccer team celebrate with the Div. III championship plaque after defeating Tulare Union in Memorial Stadium.
Some say the best things in life never come easy and the Madera South Stallions boys soccer team proved that notion correct.
From their Valley Championship loss to Dinuba two seasons ago to their playoff elimination last season, the Stallions harnessed their shortcomings over the years to launch the soccer program to new heights this year.
The top-ranked Stallions defeated third-seeded Tulare Union, 3-1, in the Div. III Central Section Championship at Memorial Stadium. Madera South’s championship win catapulted the squad into untouched territory. For the players, coaches and staff, they walk away as legends.
“We’re the greatest right now. We walk with the old Madtown team that came with coach Bobby Gutierrez,” Madera South head coach Enrique Garcia said reflecting on the program’s inception. “Bobby is the reason we are here today — rest in peace to him.”
Despite his age and experience, sophomore Carlos Cardenas guided the Stallions throughout the postseason. After a goal and two assists in the semifinals, Cardenas scored the opener to get his side going.
While Cardenas grabbed the headlines, sophomore goalkeeper Luis Segura provided the safety net Madera South needed between the sticks with eight saves.
“Oh my gosh man, they are both sophomores. We have such a bright future ahead of us,” Garcia said. “It was a credit to the whole team, too. Luis made a lot of saves that could’ve put us in danger and just the way we moved the ball and distributed the ball created chances for us moving forward.”
Madera South jumped out to a hot start, scoring in the 12th minute to jumpstart the match. Cardenas capitalized on the Tribe’s willingness to give him space and made them pay with a right-footed shot past the Tulare Union goalkeeper.
“After we scored, Tulare Union stepped up and put us on our heels. For the remainder of the first half and into the second half, before we scored our second goal, they were putting us in danger,” Garcia said. “After we scored that second goal, that’s when the game changed. That’s when the game started to go our way.”
Segura saved a close chance for the Tribe late in the first half after a counter almost caught Madera South off guard. Segura’s save kept the Tribe off the board in the first half and into the second, but the visitors were still applying pressure.
Tulare Union opened the second half with an free kick from the corner flag. A Tribe forward whipped in a free kick that nearly found its target after the ball bounced off the head of a Tribe player, but the ball went over the crossbar.
Madera South answered with a chance of its own after Cardenas released David Vasquez down the left wing. Vasquez had a step on his defender, allowing Cardenas to slip a ball into his path. Onside, Vasquez sprinted into the penalty area, but couldn’t find the shot after the Tribe defender stopped the chance with a successful block.
Segura came up big once more after a leaping one-handed save stopped a curling ball from going in the goal.
The Stallions finally found their all-important second goal in the 60th minute. Jose Chavez came to the rescue after a scramble in the box allowed Chavez to latch onto the loose ball and send it into the back of the net.
That 2-0 score line looked strong, but the Tribe had another close opportunity go awry after Segura once again gave his all for his team. The sophomore goalkeeper dove off his line in the 65th minute to keep the score intact.
His efforts gave the Stallions momentum that they used to put the third goal past Tulare Union. Christian Garcia called his own number after a run over 30 yards ended in the back of the net. The marauding midfielder picked his head up and had only one goal in mind — score.
Garcia did just that. His goal put three on the board, but more importantly, secured the Stallions’ first Valley Championship in boys soccer.
A fitting end for Garcia as he led his team statistically and emotionally over his years as a Stallion, however, with state playoffs around the corner, Garcia looks to add to his hardware this season.