The first half of the East Yosemite League girls soccer season concluded Wednesday night, and after five games there were no surprises.
Heading into the season, it was believed that the EYL championship would be a three-team race between Tulare Union, Tulare Western and Mission Oak.
Through the first half, all three teams find themselves within striking distance of EYL supremacy.
But it is Tulare Union who finds itself in first place thanks to a 3-0 victory over rival Tulare Western on Wednesday at the Tulare Western soccer field.
The Redskins improved to 4-0-1 in league, Tulare Western fell to 4-1-0, and Mission Oak defeated Delano 9-0 to improve to 3-1-1.
"Things went sort of as expected," Tulare Union coach Marshall Webb said. "I knew we'd have tough matches against Mission Oak and Western, and that was certainly true to form."
Webb said his team struggled to finish scoring chances last week, but that wasn't the case Wednesday night.
The Redskins took a 1-0 lead in the 31st minute thanks to a goal by Kaitlyn Sartuche. The senior midfielder received a pass from Samina Andrade and got behind the Tulare Western defense for a one-on-one with the goalkeeper.
"That first goal loosened us up," Sartuche said. "But it also made us push harder. We knew one goal was not going to be enough."
One goal did turn out to be enough. Following a red card to a Tulare Western player in the 60th minute, Tulare Union completely took over the game.
Just three minutes after the red card, Isabella Boatman scored on an assist from Sartuche.
And two minutes later, Breanne Martinho put the finishing touches on the win with a goal on an assist from Jordana Guy.
"Part of our talk before the game was to play intense and smart," Webb said. "I think part of that is the way we were able to handle physical play and intensity. I think we did well in that aspect, and we were able to take advantage of that red card."
Sartuche was definitely pleased with her team's performance following the game.
"I feel everybody is playing as a team," she said. "We're listening to each other and trusting each other and moving well off the ball."
The Redskins find themselves in a very familiar position atop the EYL. They are the defending seven-time champions.
But they know they still have a lot of work to do if they want to make it eight in-a-row.
"We need to keep our confidence up and keep trusting each other," Sartuche said. "We need to step it up in our next games."
The loss was a tough one for Tulare Western. Mustang coach Osama Hamid didn't have much to say following the game.
"I'm just proud of my team," Hamid said. "They played hard. We just have to play harder."
Tulare Union will open the second half of league play against Monache on Friday at home.
Tulare Western will look to bounce back when it hosts Porterville on Friday.