The top two girls soccer teams in the Central California Conference in Turlock and Merced squared off on Monday in a much anticipated battle to see who would take the first place position heading into the final month of the season.
The game was a stalemate as the stingy Turlock defense held the Bears scoreless, until, with under five minutes left in the game, Turlock’s Estephanie Partida drained the back of the net and the defense held on for the 1-0 win.
“The girls worked hard and came together at the end. [We were] slow to warm up, but we ended up winning the game in the closing minutes,” Turlock head coach Cathi Schali-Lopez said. “We have a lot of work still ahead of us, we need to take one game at a time.”
After the win, the Bulldogs are 8-0-1 in the CCC with Merced on their trail at 7-1-1. The Bulldogs have allowed only two goals in 11 contests, both of which came against Merced last month. Turlock is riding a current five-game clean sheet win streak—450 minutes—heading into today's CCC bout.
In the first half it was Merced who came away with the majority of the possession time. After a halftime talk, the Bulldogs of Turlock settled down and finally picked it up in the final 20 minutes as they began to push.
“It seemed even, but actually Merced went ahead winning balls...finally, in the last few minutes of the game, we worked together as a team to move up field,” Schali-Lopez said.
Merced's deep threat in Anisa Saechao, who showed tremendous breakaway speed, perhaps the fastest downfield runner on the field, was one obstacle it took the Bulldogs awhile to overcome on Monday.
Merced had a chance to go ahead early when Saechao got behind the Bulldogs defense in the 10th minute with a breakaway on the left side, but she was denied by Turlock keeper Caitlyn Duval.
Saechao saw another opportunity late in the game with only two minutes to go when Duval came out of the penalty area to make a sliding save. Cayla Donahue cleared the loose ball just yards away from the goal line and Saechao, who was looking for a second try.
“Minor breakdown in communication is all I can say on that incident, but fortunately we were able to pull out of that,” Schali-Lopez said about the miscue by the ‘Dogs in the closing minutes of the game.
In the end, Turlock's heavy defensive unit led by Donahue and Duval were too much for the Bears of Merced and they played it as smart and safe as possible to hold on.
“I've got to give credit to Caitlyn [Duval], this was her first CCC match and she came out and she kept us in this game and I have to give her praise for her defensive stops,” Schali-Lopez said about Duval who was making her first start replacing injured Ashlen Kuntz.
The goal came from a co-assist after Mariya Fefilova flicked the ball to Kiana Mavis, who then was able to dart a short pass into Partida's possession, who turned on her defender and placed a perfect shot in the upper right corner for the winning goal.
The Bulldogs will next meet Buhach Colony at the home of the Thunder with the pitch set for 4 p.m. today.
“Buhach will certainly come out and give us a game; they will not go down without a fight, we must play to our potential.” Schali-Lopez said.