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Hawks win twice in Division-III postseason tourney
Adrian Espinoza collected two goals during the Central Valley varsity boys soccer teams victories over Rio Americano and Golden Valley in the playoffs last week. - photo by Courier file photo

Central Valley's varsity boys soccer team had its streak of consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section playoff appearances snapped at eight seasons last year.

The tradition-rich Hawks have enjoyed a major turnaround this winter.

Fifth-seeded Central Valley topped No. 4 Rio Americano and No. 12 Golden Valley last week on its way to advancing to the semifinal round of the Division-III playoffs.

"Everybody is motivated and on the same page," Hawks head coach Omar Leon said. "They're eager to keep winning. They're hungry. We can still go farther as a team."

Central Valley shut out Rio Americano 5-0 in the quarterfinals on Thursday at El Camino High School.

Andres Velasquez led the way with two goals and two assists.

Gerardo Flores scored twice.

Adrian Espinoza collected one goal.

David Montanez and Pedro Amaya both contributed one assist.

Hawk goalkeeper Cristian Gonzalez had three saves.

"We created opportunities and finished," Leon said.

Central Valley handed 12th-seeded Golden Valley 4-1 in the first round on Feb. 21 in Merced.

Velasquez filled the stat sheet with two goals and two assists.

Angel Lopez tallied one goal and two assists.

Espinoza added one goal.

Gonzalez made three saves.

"We're defending well," Leon said. "We're finishing."

Both playoff games were contested on FieldTurf.

"It fits our (possession) style of play perfectly," Leon said.

Central Valley was supposed to host Golden Valley this past week.

"We would have loved to play at home but our field is not in ideal conditions," Leon said.

The Hawks improved to 19-6-3 on the year and earned the right to battle top-seeded East Union (19-1-4) for a berth to the section title game.

"Every game in the playoffs is totally different," said Leon, who's trying to lead Central Valley to its fifth trip to the finals. "We have to stay concentrated and play as a team."

Win or lose, the Hawks have guaranteed themselves a top-four finish in the 16-team postseason bracket.

"I'm very proud of them," said Leon, whose team struggled to a fourth-place finish in the Western Athletic Conference and just missed securing a playoff berth a year ago. "That's a huge accomplishment. I'm not surprised. We have a healthy environment in the group. That carries over into the game. It makes a huge difference. Everybody plays a huge role. It's a team effort."

The Hawks scored nine goals en route to steamrolling their way to the semifinals.

Velasquez, Lopez and Espinoza, Central Valley's veteran midfielders, have elevated the play of their teammates.

"They're seniors," Leon said. "They're the ones with experience. They're setting the example for the other kids."