HANFORD — Survive and advance. It’s what the playoffs are all about.
Locked in a scoreless battle, it was Sierra Pacific junior Kayla Sizemore who provided the lift the team had been so desperately looking for all game long on Friday.
Sizemore was able to get her foot on a ball crossed into the box and it found its way into the goal in the 69th minute of the CIF Central Section Division IV quarterfinals. She had a game-high six shots, including four on goal.
“We’ve been doing it all game getting that ball into the box and we just kept missing it,” Sizemore said. “I saw my opportunity and I had to make sure to get something on it to at least get it in the box or near the goalie so someone could finish or I could finish.”
The goal was her first of the playoffs and turned out to be the eventual game-winner as No. 1 Seed Sierra Pacific held on 1-0 over No. 8 seed Wasco.
“I knew the direction was good, but I didn’t know if I got enough on it,” Sizemore said.
It was the 17th shutout of the season for the Golden Bears (25-3-2, 12-0 ESL) and only the second time in program history the team had consecutive shutouts in the postseason. According to MaxPreps, the last time it happened was during the 2012-13 playoffs.
“We’ve been focusing on staying on our marks and just being aware of who’s up there and I think it’s paying off,” Sierra Pacific coach Christa Smith said.
Sizemore’s goal was a culmination of the pressure Sierra Pacific had been applying throughout the game. The Golden Bears thoroughly outshot the visiting Tigers 26-6 and had nine shots on goal. Wasco (18-5-3, 10-0-1 SSL) had three shots on goal.
Defenders like Makayla Cawley and Amie Walker stopped nearly every attack of Wasco’s in its tracks, while midfielders Jasmine Nestor and Kalea Oliveira won the ball in the middle third and pushed it to their forwards.
“They played a lot of defense, so we had to calm down and get our passing together to get those crosses up,” Sizemore said.
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Sierra Pacific moved into the attacking third at will and was first to nearly every ball, but they couldn’t finish when chances presented themselves.
The Golden Bears immediately attacked and had a corner kick in the opening minutes, while Olivia Fagundes and Madison Cunha both crossed balls into the box in the first 10 minutes. A corner by Elizabeth Statler in the 13th minute generated three shots in the box, but all were turned away by Wasco defenders.
Sierra Pacific appeared to break through in the 32nd minute on a free kick into the net by Sizemore, but the referee ruled the goalkeeper had possession of the ball before being interfered with, which caused her to lose the ball.
Instead of a one-goal lead, the two teams were scoreless at halftime. It was the first time the Golden Bears had failed to score in the first half since Jan. 10, a span of nine games.
“With a 0-0 scoreboard, it’s stressful no matter who you’re playing and I’m just glad that they were able to put one in,” Smith said.
Sierra Pacific thought they had the lead again in the 49th minute when a crossed ball found Statler alone at the top of the box. She put the shot just high of the net.
The Tigers had their best chance in the 61st minute. On a counter, down the line they took a shot from the right wing, but it was easily saved by goalkeeper Jazlyn Lupio. She finished the game with three saves and her second clean sheet of the playoffs.
The Golden Bears scored minutes later and then held possession for the rest of the game. Wasco failed to have a shot on goal the last 20 minutes.
“We dominated this game and I think they went into it knowing that every team was going to be difficult and us dominating the game, it was frustrating not to have a score on the board, but I’m just glad we got it done,” Smith said.
Sierra Pacific will host No. 4 seed East Bakersfield (24-3-2, 8-2 SEYL) next Wednesday at 3:30 p.m.
Noe Garcia can be reached at (559) 583-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noe on Twitter at @noecarlosgarcia.