After 80 minutes of regulation and 20 minutes of overtime, the girls’ soccer teams of Gilroy and San Benito stood 1-1 and went to a penalty shootout to determine the outcome of their Division III Central Coast Section playoff semi-finals on Wednesday.
The Haybalers looked almost dizzy and excited at the prospect of a PC meeting because they had only gone through it four days earlier to get out of the opening round. They prevailed again, this time against host Mustangs, and won the shootout 4-1 to advance to the championship game on Friday at 6 p.m. at top seed Christopher. It is the first time in program history that San Benito has reached a playoff final.
“I felt pretty good when the game went into the PKs, and so did the team,” said Haybaler coach Becky Bonner. “We’ve literally been practicing PKs for the past two weeks because we’ve realized we need to know who is going to kick when it comes to overtime and have a rotation about who is coming in.”
For the mustangs with seeds # 6 (3-3), they had to wonder what could have been. They controlled the possession time, often over long stretches, had a 4-0 advantage on corners and left San Benito 10-3 behind. Gilroy had several golden scoring chances, particularly late in regulation and in the two mandatory 10-minute overtime hours, but couldn’t finish.
“I think we left a few on the field,” said Mustangs coach Efren Pineda. “We had some chances that we didn’t convert and it came back to bite us.”
The No. 7 Seed Balers (7-5) won Castilleja after prevailing 7-6 in a marathon PK session. That shootout had nowhere near the drama of when San Benito took control early, when Trinity Arias, Nicole Maduena, and Yuvia Padilla all bonded while Gilroy failed on the second and third attempts. Jimena Heredia, San Benito’s fourth kick player, converted to get the result.
Gilroy prevailed 5-0 against San Benito earlier in the season, but the balers have come a long way since then from a health perspective.
“When we played them for the first time, nine of our 15 girls were injured,” said Bonner. “Not only did we have a lot of injured players, we also had several girls who weren’t in the right position.”
The balers had few chances to score during the game and their only goal came from a set piece. In the 17th minute, Laine Lowi stunned Gilroy with a beautiful free kick from 36 meters away, which led to the 1-0 just below the top bar. Gilroy equalized in the 46th minute when Maddie Eastus fell on a loose ball in the penalty area after teammate Mary Jane Porter’s shot was deflected by Baler’s goalkeeper Shaelyn Tamez.
Often involved in the running of the game, Eastus was the catalyst for Gilroy who won the time of possession. She almost hit in the 80th minute when her free-kick seemed to hit San Benito’s goal from 22 yards. However, Tamez got just enough of the ball that it ricocheted off the underside of the top post and returned straight to the pitch. Tamez was solid again in goal, Heredia made several strong defensive games and Lowi wowed the team with her ability to control the ball in the middle of the field.
Gilroy’s Lexi Wilson and Gianna Bozzo were consistently active, and Dahlia Saavedra played a key role in Gilroy’s possession advantage. Despite the loss, Pineda said the program was on the rise.
“Half of our team are freshmen and sophomores, and they got a taste of CCS,” he said. “So that was a great turnout for a season. The expectations for the next year are high, it is good that our program is learning and we will try to come back even stronger. “
Pineda also expects to have more players next season, a more experienced goalkeeper at Camberly Jhonson who performed admirably in her first year in that position, improving the game across the board as the players improved develop further during the club season.
“They will take advantage of this result and do everything they can to get better,” said Pineda.
Bonner is particularly proud of their players who managed to overcome difficult times and ultimately thrive.
“Throughout all of this, the girls had such a great attitude in building each other up and that’s part of the reason they’re here because a lot of people break down in these challenging situations,” she said. “But these girls are really close to each other and as a coach it’s nice because you don’t always have years like this where they build something positive even though they have been through some difficult things around them.”
San Benito and Christopher will race it back for the third time this season, with the Cougars beating 3-0 and 2-0 in the first two games.
“Christopher is a very good team but I’m confident that if the girls come out and don’t give up, I think they can give them a run for their money,” said Bonner. “In any case, I’m proud of the effort they have put into this season and the way they move up every time they face challenges.”
Mustangs newcomer Dahlia Saavedra battles the Trinity Arias of balers on Wednesday. Photo by Bryant Hammer.Gilroy junior Lexi Wilson wants to play against San Benito. Photo by Bryant Hammer.