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In first-ever playoff game, Denair soccer secures win to advance
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Denair's Timothy Hernandez keeps the ball rolling past his Ben Holt opponent during the game Thursday night. The Coyotes won 1-0 and will advance on to the semifinals against Summerville Tuesday (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

For the first time in Denair High School history, the varsity boys soccer team played in a playoff game Thursday night. Making the historic evening even sweeter was the team’s 1-0 victory over Ben Holt College Prep Academy at home, which saw the Coyotes advance to the Sac-Joaquin Section D-VI Semifinal game next week. 

“I told these guys that I wanted them to be the first in school history to get a playoff berth, and we used that as motivation all season,” Denair head coach Miguel Hernandez said. “They bought into it.”

The team’s first playoff appearance since the boys soccer program began in 2001 was well-earned; the Coyotes were the No. 1 seed coming into the playoff tournament after playing their way to a Southern League championship with a 9-0-5 record. 

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Justin Hernandez works to keep the ball away from his Ben Holt opponents during the quarterfinals contest (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

That league title came courtesy of a lights-out defense which only allowed more than one goal once this season and posted eight shutouts. Since signing on as head coach in 2019, Hernandez knew the school was capable of producing a playoff-caliber team.

“When I first picked up this team, they were coming off zero wins. I told them that I wanted to put some respect on the soccer program,” Miguel Hernandez said. “We’ve achieved that. Now it’s time to keep going.”

Denair defended its reputation as a defensive powerhouse Thursday evening, keeping the Coyotes in the game after a scoreless first half. Junior Timothy Hernandez broke the tie in the sixth minute of the second half, and with five minutes left in the game Ben Holt was looking to tie the game once more — but the defense stepped up big. 

On a Ben Holt penalty kick headed for the corner of the goal, Denair senior John Hernandez was able to head the ball over the net and out of bounds. Just moments later, goalie Sergio Torres blocked another Ben Holt shot to secure the win. 

“Defense wins championships,” Miguel Hernandez said. “We’re the best defense in the league. We have to keep that same energy, because defense will take us a long way. Usually we’re a little bit better offensively, but these guys were on a big stage for the very first time so the nerves are there.”

This season will be Miguel Hernandez’s last coaching for Denair as he steps away to coach his daughter through the club ball ranks. The Coyotes will play at home again in the semifinal game against Summerville, set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, and he has high hopes that the team’s success will continue. 

“I definitely want to go out with us holding a championship,” he said.