HANFORD — These weren’t your Berenstain Bears on Saturday as the Golden Bears’ clawing defense and relentless pressure allowed only three goals in their 14-3 dismantling of Tulare Western.
Sierra Pacific (20-7, 8-1 ESL) had 17 steals and applied pressure any time the Mustangs even thought of touching the ball. The girls were on a mission to prove themselves worthy of the No. 2 seed bestowed upon them in their CIF Central Section Division III bracket. They were worthy all right.
Sierra Pacific captain and junior Victoria Blanchard led the way for Sierra Pacific with her seven goals and three steals. She got the first quarter started with a quick goal, not even 20 seconds in.
The Golden Bears took a quick 3-0 lead before 7-seed Tulare Western (6-17, 1-6 EYL) took a timeout with under three minutes to go in the first quarter. They came out of the break looking like a new team as they score quickly and followed it up with a stop and a penalty shot to make it 3-2.
After the second goal, something clicked for Sierra Pacific. Whatever that something was, it wouldn’t allow Tulare Western to see another goal for almost 20 minutes of game time.
“We have a really focused approach,” Sierra Pacific coach Jessica Bean said. “They don’t get shaken very easily. If they’re down, if they’re ahead by a lot … they’re very cool, calm, collected all the time.”
Having already scored two goals, Blanchard restored her team’s two-goal lead with 23 seconds to go in the quarter. The Mustangs took over, but were denied and Blanchard had the ball with the clock winding down. She took the shot and bounced the ball into the net as the buzzer sounded to end the first.
“I really wasn’t paying attention to the clock at the second,” Blanchard said. “I was like, ‘Oh, the buzzer went off.’ I just thought it was pretty cool that it happened.”
The girls pressed on and added three more goals — two by junior Hailey McGaha — in the second quarter to head into halftime leading 8-2. McGaha finished with four goals and an assist and leads her team with 103 goals on the season.
“We have a lot of tools in our arsenal,” Bean said. “If one thing’s not working, we have something to fall back on and if another thing’s not working, then we can fall back on something different.”
The team has speed everywhere, great shooters around the perimeter and top-level communication that keeps every girl in the know of what’s happening.
Defensively, the second and third quarters were about as clean as you can get. Tulare Western labored to move the ball up the pool and get quality looks at the net. When they did get a look, goalkeeper Emma Enquist was there to shut down any scoring chances.
In her first year as a full-time goalkeeper, Enquist limited the opposition to 6.2 goals per match and has 196 saves on the season. No doubt she’ll reach 200 — an incredible milestone — in her next match.
“Me and my coach have been working a lot,” Enquist said. “Whenever we’re at practice I pass with her outside of the pool and she works with me in the cage as well.”
In her quarterfinals match, Enquist made 13 saves and added three steals at the front of her goal. Time after time she made it difficult on the Mustangs. Her long wingspan made looking for a shot an unwanted task.
Tulare Western scored on a penalty shot in the fourth quarter with just over a minute left in the game, but found no other offense after their pair of goals in the first quarter.
Sierra Pacific lined up to shake their opponents’ hands and were met with a warm applause from their fans. Freshman Rylee Lord scored the other two goals and Brianna Leeper score one.
This was the third time in a row Sierra Pacific defeated Tulare Western this season. They beat them twice in September with scores of 6-5 and 14-6.
Sierra Pacific will face the Central Sequoia League champions, 3-seed Yosemite (19-5, 12-0 CSL) today at Hanford West High School at 6 p.m.
Their semifinal match will be the closet they’ve been to a Division III championship since they lost in the 2015 championship to Selma, 10-5.
With the win, the Golden Bears are now on a five-match winning streak. During that time, they’ve outscored their opponents 64-14. Defense is leading to offense and they are red hot right now.
“I’m really hoping our communication is the same because I think we really worked together as a team today, really well,” Blanchard said. “If we keep that, we keep the wins.”