GALT — Members of the Liberty Ranch High girls soccer team accomplished many firsts this season.
The Hawks hosted their first-ever California Interscholastic Federation Regional Girls Soccer Championships Division IV game at Hawk Stadium on Thursday. Top-seeded Liberty Ranch was looking to play for a NorCal title for the first time in the program’s history, but had to get past No. 5 Miramonte, which is part of the North Coast Section.
But the visiting Matadors came through in the final eight minutes of the game to upset Liberty Ranch 3-2. The win sends Miramonte, out of Orinda, to the championship game against No. 6 El Camino of Sacramento on Saturday. El Camino posted a 2-0 win over No. 7 Campolindo. Liberty Ranch (19-5) defeated El Camino 4-0 in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV title game at Cosumnes Oaks High of Elk Grove on Feb. 21.
“A hard-fought battle in both directions,” said Liberty Ranch coach Robert Huarte. “Both teams had their chances. The last eight minutes, they turned it around on us a little bit. The ball bounces in mysterious ways.”
The game was tied at 1-1 until the 64th minute. That was when Liberty Ranch midfielder Karlie Hintze, who started the game at defender, gave her team a 2-1 lead on a head shot that went into the left corner of the goal.
Both teams traded possessions for the next seven minutes. Then Miramonte, which beat No. 4 Kingsburg 1-0 in the NorCal opener on Tuesday, controlled the game starting in the 72nd minute. Finding a way to break through the Hawks’ defense in the back, Miramonte’s Taylor Walthall went 1-on-1 with a Liberty Ranch player, as they battled for possession of the soccer ball at the south end of the stadium. Now inside the box, Walthall booted a roller into the center of the net for a 2-2 tie.
“When we scored on the second goal, we could feel the momentum shift,” said Miramonte coach Barry McQuain, whose Matadors have traveled an estimated 288 miles to Liberty Ranch and Kingsburg since Tuesday. “You could see our girls screaming on the sidelines.”
At the 76th minute, Miramonte’s Jordan Goularte made it 3-2 on a line drive shot into the back of the net.
“They have some skilled players,” Huarte said. “They started playing some balls in deep, and got over our defenders’ heads, which didn’t happen much this year. They were able to capitalize and finish. Hats off to them for keeping their composure.”
Liberty Ranch frantically did all it could to get the offense going in the final four minutes of the game to try to, at least, tie the game. That included battling for possession of the soccer down the Miramonte sidelines. But the Matadors’ defense contained possession of the ball for most of the final minute to claim the win.
Both teams had limited shots on goal in the first half. Then both teams moved the ball effectively with passing and rolling the soccer down the sidelines.
“The players on the other team are fantastic,” said McQuain of Liberty Ranch. “The game could’ve gone either way.”
The Hawks scored their first goal just two minutes into the second half. Midfielder Sydney Klink reached the inside of the Matadors’ box. She directed her kick into the right corner of the goal, as Miramonte goalie Kate Blanchard just missed the save, as Liberty Ranch had a 1-0 lead.
Miramonte made it 1-1 in the 50th minute. That’s when Juliet Adams scored on a free kick.
Entering Thursday’s game, Liberty Ranch earned the CIF’s first-round bye. Along with claiming the program’s first section title in the program’s history — as the top-seed — since the school opened its doors in 2009, Liberty Ranch won its third consecutive Sierra Valley Conference title.
Liberty Ranch will say good-bye to 15 seniors on this year’s team. That includes four-year starter at forward/midfielder McKenna Brown, who has scored 34 goals this season. Brown will continue to play soccer at Chico State on a scholarship. Other senior starters for the Hawks were defenders Sayde Zanotti, Gianna Vigna, Devyn Kelley and Hintze, goalie Carson Jackson.
Huarte feels that seniors on the team have established the bar of success for future Hawk soccer players.
“This team has set records; has set first in the school’s history,” Huarte said. “Last year, we didn’t allow a goal in league. This year, we won a section title. So many firsts that we created, like being in the NorCal; the semifinal is another firsts. What we talk to them about at the end of the game today is not allowing just one game to define us. We spoke loud and proud when we won the section title and we won our league. That’s what I want them to remember and be proud of.”
Contact Mike Bush at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @MBushLodiSports.