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Falcons fight into title game
RV wins in PKs, earns title game berth
SACRAMENTO — River Valley High senior Jose Mendoza didn't realize the significance of his final shot on Wednesday until about 5 minutes after it happened.
As he lined up for the kick of his life, he didn't think about the contingent of Rio Americano fans screaming for him to fail from the sideline. He didn't contemplate a make or a miss and what the ramifications would be either way.
In the semifinals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs, Mendoza said he could only think of his family and teammates, the people he said he loves more than anything. He wanted to make this final shot for them.
As his foot connected, there was a brief pause from the crowd, his teammates stood behind him with their arms around each other. His coach, Abel Franco, paced and said it was in "Jose's hands now."
Mendoza let it fly — one second later — instant jubilation.
The Falcons congregated in front of the goal and mobbed Mendoza after his kick gave his team a 5-4 shootout victory to send River Valley to the school's first ever section championship game.
After participating in a raucous chorus of "Olé, Olé, Olé" with his teammates, Mendoza was struggling to put his huge moment into words.
"I didn't know if I should scream or cry or what," Mendoza said. "I feel like a superhero."
This was RV's second consecutive shootout win in the postseason. In their second-round match, the Falcons played No. 3 Patterson to a 0-0 draw through 80 minutes of regulation and two 10-minute overtime periods before coming away with the 5-4 win in penalty kicks.
No. 6 River Valley (12-2-3) followed that same formula on Wednesday against the No. 2 Raiders. The Falcons have not allowed a goal in 280 minutes of soccer this postseason.
"I think they want to give me a heart attack," Franco said with a laugh. "They like to make it exciting. We're not satisfied yet though.
"Today we'll enjoy it, but tomorrow we get ready for Saturday."
Franco's alluding to the section championship game scheduled for 2 p.m. at Lincoln High in Stockton against No. 5 Central Valley of Ceres, which defeated No. 1 Manteca 1-0 on Wednesday.
Getting to that title game was a battle.
Rio Americano began the shootout with senior Ian Kinn, but RV goalkeeper Triston Montoya made a diving save on Kinn's shot to give his team the only cushion it needed.
Hector Ramos, Castulo Carvajal, Jesus Garcia, Melad Rahim and Mendoza all connected on their shot attempts to seal the win for the Falcons.
Montoya, the Tri-County Conference's Defensive Player of the Year, said having to play in a shootout in consecutive games is stressful, but enjoyable.
He said this season has meant everything to him after sitting out his junior season last year. As a sophomore in 2010, he helped take the Falcons to the playoffs where they lost in the first round.
This was somewhat of a revenge game for RV as Rio Americano was the team that eliminated the Falcons from the postseason in the program's first appearance in 2009.
"This means a lot for our school," Montoya said. "Nobody here is trying to be an individual, we're playing as a team. Franco told us three years ago we would be playing for a section championship and here we are."
Montoya made 13 saves in the 100 minutes of regulation and overtime combined. He and the back line of Garcia, Mendoza and Alejandro Diaz played inspired the entire match.
Offensively, the Falcons could only put five shots on goal in regulation compared to 10 by Rio Americano.
A big change for the Falcons was playing on a grass field for the first time since Oct. 1 at Woodland. Every other TCC team uses field turf. Their last opponent, Patterson, also uses turf.
"We had some chances, we just didn't connect," Franco said.
River Valley has already staked its claim as the best team in school history with a TCC title, three playoff wins and a spot in the section title game.
On Saturday, the Falcons will attempt do something no team in the school's seven-year run of playing varsity sports has done.
"We can take this all the way because we're here for a reason," Mendoza said. "Two PK wins, two shutouts, this playoff run, the regular season, it's all coming together for a reason and we're going to come stronger on Saturday to take it all the way and win this championship."