By Ray Hamill — Apparently it’s true that defenses win championships.
At the very least, their defense has given the Del Norte Warriors a chance to win a first championship in 28 years.
On Monday night, the Warriors took a huge step toward achieving that with a statement 3-0 win at Eureka to move into the lead in the league standings with one game remaining.
But thanks to their incredible defense, the Warriors can clinch the pennant outright with a win at home to McKinleyville on Wednesday, or at least a share with a tie.
Monday’s shutout was the fourth straight for the Warriors and their seventh in eight games.
During that run they have outscored their opponents 40-1.
The only team to score against them in those eight games were the Huskies in a 1-1 tie in Crescent City and Del Norte has given up just five goals total in league play.
What’s more remarkable about that is the fact this is a junior-heavy team that was not supposed to peak until next season, and also a team that lost its top striker, Mario Ledezma, to injury right before the season opener.
But under the guidance of head coach David Sanyaolu, this group has gelled into serious league contenders quicker than expected.
On Monday, Deken Hanks scored in the opening half to give the Warriors a one-goal lead at the interval.
Check out some Del Norte/Eureka highlights below …
Saxon Taylor would add to the lead just four minutes into the second half on a shot from long range.
To their credit, the Loggers continued to battle to the final whistle, but a comeback was unlikely against such a suffocating defense.
Especially with Del Norte goalkeeper Isidro Montanez making some brilliant saves to keep a dangerous Eureka attack in check.
“Eureka played great but we matched them in all areas and scored very good goals,” Sanyaolu said.
Eureka head coach Eddie Garcia also praised the play of Montanez, who also made some big saves in a 1-0 win over the Loggers earlier in the season in Crescent City.
“Great job by Del Norte,” he said. “They played a great game, especially their goalkeeper who made some crucial saves. And I didn’t prepare my team properly for this game.”
“It hurts, but it is one game and our season is not over,” Garcia added. “We now switch our focus to NCS and making a deep run.
“I’m really proud of our team and what they’ve accomplished this year. This group of seniors has turned Eureka into a team that is now challenging for the title and improving year over year, and the team has a bright future with Will Mooney and Trenton Gerber ready to lead the next line of seniors and the rest of the team, with the freshmen proving that they are ready to make their mark on the league.”
Central defenders Alexis Ortiz and Greyson Franklin have anchored the Del Norte defense all season, with full backs Jacob Ramsey and freshman David Aguilar rounding out the impressive unit.
Rigden and Taylor are the team’s two defensive midfielders who also play a big role in keeping opposing attacks at bay.
“Our defense has been very, very good for us,” Sanyaolu said. “And we have two good central defensive midfielders that shield the back line and also create offensive opportunities.”
Outside midfielders Pedro Garcia-Maravilla and Brandt Pennington both also have done a good creating opportunities for in-form speedy striker Deken Hanks, a sophomore who has netted 14 times this season.
“We have very good balance. We don’t have one area of weakness,” said the head coach, who believes his side has more team unity than in years past.