ESCALON -- There's nothing like sudden death to make a soccer team focus for 80 minutes.
"We've had games this season where we'd play hard, let down a while, then play hard again," Escalon coach Paul Silva said. "Today, however, these guys played with intensity in every minute."
The do-or-die nature of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V playoffs was Escalon's motivation.
"It's been about six years since Escalon made the playoffs," according to Silva, "so no one wanted to go home after one game."
Ramon Valencia and Jose Mancilla scored as the Trans-Valley League champs dominated Amador 2-0 in Tuesday's first round.
Escalon (20-3-3) hosts Western Athletic Conference runner-up Livingston (10-4-2) in Thursday's semifinal. The final will be Saturday at Lincoln High in Stockton.
"The WAC, with Hilmar, Livingston and Patterson, is a powerful conference," Silva said. "The TVL is improved this year, but I guess we'll find out."
The last time a current TVL team played for a section title was 2000, when Riverbank beat Colfax 3-0. Since that time, teams now in the WAC have won four section titles and made eight appearances in the section final.
Livingston has lost in the section final the last two seasons.
"We got a taste of what the playoffs are like, and it will be an advantage on Thursday," said Silva, whose Cougars held off Riverbank and Ripon in a competitive TVL race. "We didn't play many big schools in the preseason. We'll change that next year, but we had some good TVL games."
Escalon certainly represented the TVL in its opener, attacking the goal at every opportunity. Valencia made it 1-0 in the first half, then Mancilla scored with 23 minutes left in the match.
Between those scores, Escalon had a half-dozen near misses while shooting from every angle.
"They've got the green light to shoot," Silva said. "I don't look much at shooting percentages. I like getting lots of shots on goal."
Mancilla, Valencia, Armando Becerra and Francisco Martinez were able to take chances on offense because Amador's counterattack posed no threat to score.
Left fullback Fernando Munoz repeatedly stripped the ball from Amador's right wings, and center fullback Brian Arotca rarely allowed the ball to approach the goal from the middle of the field.
"Fernando's left-footed, which bothers people because he sticks his foot in there to take the ball away," said Silva, whose defense has allowed 14 goals in 26 games.
Escalon's last league title came in 1996, Silva said, but this year's success wasn't a big surprise.
"We identified a number of these kids two or three years ago," said Silva, who coached the junior varsity for three years before moving to varsity this fall. "We focused on teaching techniques because we felt this was a group that had some great potential.
"It's great to see it all coming together at once. It's a real landmark season for this program."
Bee staff writer Richard T. Estrada can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.