Joanna Espinoza’s hat trick guided the Taft College women’s soccer team to a 4-1 victory over West Hills-Lemoore here Tuesday that launched a drive the Cougars hope will take them to Central Valley Conference crown.
Espinoza, who is the leading scorer in the CVC and ranks seventh in the state, had two assisted goals and one on her own when she caught Golden Eagle goalkeeper Vanessa Diaz Melo out of the box and rifled a shot into the back of the net.
“She’s such a smart player,” head coach Myisha Cutrona said. “That’s why she leads the conference in goals.”
Espinoza, a sophomore who played her high school soccer at Highland High in Bakersfield, has 16 goals on the season.
“She scored 16 last year and her goal this year is to do better than that,” Cutrona said. “She has five games left to do that.”
Four of the five are conference outings, including two – a home and home – with perennial conference champion Fresno City College.
But before the Cougars plunge into the CVC home stretch they will polish their game today with a non-conference skirmish against Cerro Coso College of Ridgecrest on the home field.
TC should have an easy time.
The Coyotes are winless in nine tries and have been outscored 116-1, including a 24-1 loss to No. 3 ranked Chaffey. TC, currently ranked 10th in northern California, battled Chaffey to a scoreless tie.
Cutrona will be able to rest players who are nursing injuries.
“We have a lot of starters who are injured,” she said, “including a couple probably out for the rest of the season.”
She’s counting on some of the wounded to be ready to go next Tuesday.
That’s when the Cougars travel to Fresno for the first of two crucial games with the Rams, who are ranked No. 9 in the state and No. 4 in northern California. The second meeting will wrap up the regular season in Taft on Nov. 15. Playoffs start Nov. 23.
“It’s a huge challenge for us,” Cutrona said. “Fresno is the real deal.”
In the win against West Hills, the Cougars struck quickly when Espinoza took a pass from midfielder Selina Chacon for the first of her three goals.
Espinoza made it 2-0 when she faked out the Golden Eagle defenders for the unassisted goal.
That’s the way it stayed until five minutes into the second half when West Hills scored its only goal to cut the lead to one.
Page 2 of 2 - Freshman Cristina Salazar made it 3-1 in the 68th minute when she maneuvered around a defender for a clear shot that went under the bar into the left side of the net.
Chacon and Espinoza collaborated to put the finishing touches on the scoring in the waning moments.
Fresno 2-0 (11-1-2)
Taft 2-0 (9-3-1)
Sequoias 1-2 (7-6-1)
West Hills 0-3 (5-7-2)