The El Diamante boys soccer team needed just one more win to capture its first West Yosemite League championship.
But standing in the way was a nemesis it could not figure out how to beat over the past two seasons — Golden West.
The Trailblazers defeated the Miners twice last season, denying their Miners of their first league title.
The second-place finish was the best the Miners had accomplished since the program’s inception in 2002, setting themselves up for high expectations for the 2013-14 season.
El Diamante started the WYL campaign on fire and looked like it was on its way to a first league title, but was knocked off course by a 4-0 drubbing by Golden West on Feb. 3.
But on the final day of the regular season, the Miners still found themselves in position for a league title.
All they had to do was beat Golden West.
After a scoreless first half, El Diamante struck for three second-half goals en route to a 3-0 win over Golden West on Friday at the El Diamante soccer field, giving the Miners their first WYL championship in boys soccer.
“This feels so amazing,” El Diamante senior captain Francisco Torres said. “I’m so proud of my team for doing this. We put everything we had into it and we came out with the WYL championship.”
El Diamante finished the season with an 11-1 WYL record and went 19-2-2 overall.
Golden West, who won the WYL championship last season, went 10-2 and 17-3-1.
“This was for the league title,” Golden West coach John McCaw said. “These guys wanted to win WYL, it was one of our goals. When it comes down to one game and you don’t get what you want, you’re obviously disappointed. They’re teenage kids. This hurts.”
The Trailblazers and Miners were in a scoreless tie at halftime.
That all changed just two minutes into the second half when Francisco Medina got behind the Golden West defense and kicked the ball into the back of the net to give the Miners the lead.
“There was a lot of relief there,” El Diamante coach Agustin Gonzalez said. “When we got the first one, we were able to calm down and knock the ball around. We worked so hard for the first one, and when we got it, we played our game.”
Joey Chica, the reigning Times-Delta/Advance-Register Tulare County player of the year, gave the Miners some breathing room with his goal in the 18th minute.
And he put the exclamation mark on the win with a left-footed blast from about 40 yards out to put the Miners up 3-0.
“This just goes to show how much we’ve grown since last year,” Chica said. “Nobody thought we’d do anything last year, but we’ve grown as team, and developed, and now we’re league champions.”
For Gonzalez, winning a league title has an extra special meaning. His dad was the first coach at El Diamante and got the program rolling, but the Miners couldn’t get to the top until now.
“It means a lot because my dad loves the kids and he wants to see them succeed,” Gonzalez said. “For me, to be able to take over and do what we did … it was nice to finally win WYL.”
The season is far from over for both El Diamante and Golden West.
The Miners all-but locked up the No. 1 seed in the Central Section Division II playoffs.
And Golden West is looking at the No. 2 seed. Some may argue the No. 2 seed should go to Reedley (16-3-2), the North Yosemite League champions, but Golden West defeated Reedley 3-2 earlier this season, giving the Trailblazers the head-to-head advantage with a slightly better record as well.
The seeding meeting is Saturday morning.
A third meeting between El Diamante and Golden West in the Division II championship is not out of the question.
“I think there’s six or seven really good teams in Division II so it’s going to be tough,” McCaw said. “You’d have to play really well just to get to the final.”
El Diamante said it isn’t looking past anybody in the postseason, but likes its chances of winning a Central Section championship.
“If we bring it like we brought it today, anything is possible,” Torres said. “If we play like a team, it can be tough to stop us.”
The Miners head into the postseason on a high note.
The Trailblazers head in coming off a disappointing loss, but McCaw said his team will be ready.
“We’ll have a weekend to think about this and then get ready for the playoffs,” he said. “I don’t expect a letdown. I think we’ll be fine.”