The Mission boys' soccer team holds up jerseys and posters after winning the NorCal Division V title on March 2, 2019, in honor of junior defender Aaron Villareal, who was the only survivor of an auto accident that killed three of his siblings. Villareal was still hospitalized as the team won the title. (Courtesy / S.F. Glens FC)

SF Preps Soccer: Mission boys win NorCal championship for hospitalized teammate; Sacred Heart Cathedral falls in D-III final

By Ryan Maquiñana
Special to S.F. Examiner

The San Francisco Glens Soccer Club of USL League Two are proud to partner with the Examiner in featuring boys’ and girls’ high school soccer in The City. Vote now for the San Francisco High School Boys’ and Girls’ Player of the Year as well as Boys’ and Girls’ Coach of the Year on SFGlens.com

It was a tale of two San Francisco teams in the Northern California boys’ soccer finals, as Mission High School and Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep hit the 99-South freeway to their opponents’ home fields and emerged with different fates Saturday night.

While Mission capped an unimaginable 72 hours by winning its first Northern California title in the Division V final over Hilmar, Sacred Heart Cathedral’s Cinderella run suffered a bittersweet end at Madera South.

NORCAL DIVISION V FINAL: MISSION 4, HILMAR 1

The Bears entered the game with heavy hearts, as junior defender Aaron Villareal remained hospitalized after he was the lone survivor of a fatal car crash Thursday that killed three of his elder siblings, all Mission alumni. The family was on the road to visit their father, who was in the hospital with stage IV colon cancer.

“Even though we’re celebrating, we’re still thinking of Aaron,” head coach Jose Mendoza Jr. said. “It gave us that drive to win and go at Hilmar from the first minute, and you could tell how much we wanted it.”

Raising aloft a sea of custom-made shirts with Villareal’s jersey number 21, and signs saying  “This is for you, Aaron” above their heads, the Mission fans who made the trip to the Turlock area gave the players a constant visual reminder of who they were playing for.

“Today was all about Aaron,” senior co-captain Kai Nozawa said. “Thinking about him is what gave us strength throughout the semifinals and today. We know that he’s enduring a lot more pain than we are, so we had to give everything we had for him.”

“We’re a family at Mission, and we always step up to be there for each other,” added senior co-captain Marvin Flores. “Aaron and I are really good friends. When I see him again, I’m going to tell him I love him and I know he can get through this.”

It didn’t take long for the inspired Bears to resemble the same dominant force that lost only once all season en route to a CIF San Francisco Section title.

Flores opened the scoring minutes into the game after rushing in from outside the box and heading home a corner kick. Senior defender Fabrizzio Morales Garcia followed up with a second goal after Hilmar was unable to play the ball out of the back, doubling Mission’s advantage midway through the first half.

Then SF Player of the Year candidate Julio Gonzalez Ponce got involved, beating both center backs to the ball in the box and smashing the third goal for Mission. The irony is that Mendoza was almost forced to find a replacement for his star striker for the most important game of the season.

“My boss didn’t want me to miss work, but in the end, [Mendoza] talked to her,” said Gonzalez Ponce, who works two jobs as a busboy in the Mission to help support his family. “I had to be there. We’re all sad for Aaron right now, but we’re happy to win this championship for him.”

At the halftime whistle, the Bears possessed a commanding 3-0 lead, but the game was not yet a fait accompli.

The host Yellowjackets answered with a goal early in the second half and geared for one last gasp at a possible comeback. But the Mission back line, led by Nozawa, regrouped to bottle up Hilmar’s scoring machine Bryan Millan, who was coming off a hat trick in the semifinals.

Finally, with roughly eight minutes left, Gonzalez Ponce deflated Hilmar’s hopes for good with a highlight-reel finish. The senior took the ball from outside the box and then juked three defenders, causing one to slip before coolly slotting home his second score of the game and 44th in the past two seasons.

“Julio is just incredibly talented,” said Mendoza, who also plays midfielder for the San Francisco Glens of USL League Two. “He still doesn’t have a college scholarship offer and I don’t know why. I really hope this gets college coaches’ attention because I have so many players here who don’t play club soccer but can play at the next level, and Julio is at the top of the list.”

As the final whistle blew and the Bears received their winners’ medals, a wave of emotion overcame the team as they jumped in unison, chanting Aaron’s name and relishing the most bittersweet of celebrations.

“Even though we know Aaron and his family need a lot more support than just winning a championship, we know when he’s awake, we’re just glad to know this will bring him some happiness,” Mendoza said. “He’s going through a lot, and the whole team can’t wait to visit him in the hospital and give him his winner’s medal.”

GoFundMe page for the Villareals has already raised over $110,000 in two days.

NORCAL DIVISION III FINAL: MADERA SOUTH 5, SACRED HEART CATHEDRAL 2

For 31 minutes, Sacred Heart Cathedral’s impossible dream was alive and well. Though the host Stallions went ahead early 1-0 from a David Vasquez effort near the edge of the box, Irish junior Ellis Brenneman scored his latest timely postseason goal to even the score at 1-1.

Unfortunately for Sacred Heart Cathedral, Madera South rode a raucous partisan crowd to a second goal before halftime and never looked back.

Abraham Vasquez and Arturo Zavala found holes in the sturdy Irish defense in the second half to put the game out of reach as the Stallions (25-5-1) successfully defended their home turf just northwest of Fresno.

Despite the defeat, Sacred Heart Cathedral had a campaign to remember under first-year head coach Mike McNeill. Leading up to the final, the Irish (15-8-3) were riding an eight-game unbeaten streak that included a Central Coast Section Division III championship triumph as unlikely as their run to the NorCal final.

With Brenneman and playmaking sophomore Diego Grande among a wave of talent returning to Sacred Heart Cathedral, however, the new City power will have opponents on notice next season.

The San Francisco Glens’ USL League Two home opener is May 17 at Boxer Stadium and will feature new amenities like the Carlsberg Beer Garden and Fan Zone, as well as new pre-game and in-game entertainment. Learn more about the 2019 schedule, ticket information, and more at SFGlens.com or on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram @SFGlensSC.Prep Sports

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