Hillmen find a hero in Vera

Versatile senior scores in the final two minutes as Placer wins key PVl battle over rival
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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COLFAX — From defense to forward to midfield, left, right — Mauricio Vera will gladly play anywhere on the pitch for the Placer High soccer team. The speedy senior found himself in the right place at the right time Tuesday evening. Vera slid and nudged in a deflected shot past the post to lift Placer over Colfax 1-0 in a thrilling Pioneer Valley League contest. Vera’s strike ended 78 minutes of frustration for the Hillmen, who created several prime opportunities in front of the Falcons’ net before finally finishing one. “It was rolling and I said, ‘I have to get there,’ and I did, just in time,” Vera said. “From the first minute we were dominating. We had a lot of opportunities and we finally found the goal. I was proud to score it.” Just moments after Placer’s goal, Colfax nearly answered. But goalkeeper Ulises Arellano was there to rescue the Hillmen, pouncing on a Colfax header in front of the goal. The win gave Placer (3-1 PVL) an early edge in the race for the PVL title, though Colfax, Center and Foothill are all close behind at 2-1-1. The Hillmen have gone nearly 20 years since their last league title on the soccer field. Placer played without last year’s league MVP Eduardo Hernandez, who is nursing a knee injury. Coach Mark Miller said he isn’t sure when Hernandez will return, but the Hillmen could use him on the offensive end. “We’re missing the finishing touch up front, but tonight we were persistent and we kept possession and created chances,” Miller said. Chilean exchange student Ben Delabarra continued his outstanding play for the Hillmen and junior Gama Gomez had several near-misses. Freshman Nikolai Figueroa anchored the Placer defense with help from Adam Norcott, Peter Kean and Eddie Santamaria. Colfax goalkeeper Chris Lovejoy turned away several great shots in the first half. Defenders Eric Graves, Adam Allen and Josh Partin held off the Placer attack as long as they could. “My hat’s off to Placer,” Colfax coach Jim Logan said. “They were clearly the better team tonight. I’m really proud of my team for the effort they gave. This game is what makes a great rivalry.” Vera came off the bench to score the game-winner as Miller utilized Placer’s depth to wear down the Falcons. Vera wasn’t with the team early in the year because his job at Chevy’s conflicted with the practice schedule. But he re-worked his schedule to make sure he didn’t miss his senior season with the Hillmen. He’s Miller’s ultimate utility man. “I’m there for coach, wherever he wants me to go,” Vera said. “Since last year I’ve played defense, forward, on the wing. I’m just proud to play for Placer.”