HANFORD — The first goal was to make it back to the Division III championship match. The second is to win it.
Sierra Pacific (20-10, 8-0 ESL) will get that opportunity after eliminating Lemoore, 12-5, in the CIF Central Section Division III semifinals on Wednesday at Hanford West High School.
“We’re excited to be there,” Sierra Pacific coach Jessica Bean said. “We’ve been working hard for this since June and we’ve been battling and battling.”
They’ll face Kingsburg (20-9, 4-2 CSL), the defending Division III champions and the team that beat them, 12-10, in the title game last season. The championship match will be on Saturday at the Fresno State Aquatics Center with a start time of 10:30 a.m.
It’s Sierra Pacific’s third championship appearance in four years. They also lost to Selma, 10-5, in 2015, so they’re eager to get this one.
“We don’t feel like we’re done,” Bean said. “The girls told me that they’re ready to play right now. They’re ready and we’re ready and we’re going to have two really good practices coming up and then show up Saturday.”
It was another battle in the semifinals with Lemoore (9-19, 4-6 WYL) keeping it close to begin the match. The Tigers trailed 3-2 to at halftime, but tied the match when Victoria Gonzalez scored after being triple teamed at the 2-meter line.
It was the first time the Tigers had pulled even in the match. But Sierra Pacific, as they have previously, never panicked and turned it on in the second half.
The Golden Bears went on a 3-0 run with a man-up goal by Isabella Tomas and then scores by Victoria Blanchard and Rylee Lord.
“We woke up,” Blanchard said. “We got into the groove of the game. We started to play our game. We didn’t let them faze us. We just said, ‘This is our game. We’re going to take this. We want it more than them.’”
After a Lemoore timeout, Lemoore’s Emma DeBurger cut the lead to two, but Lord’s shot and pressure on the ensuing possession forced goalkeeper Delilha Van Hoek-Meehan to put the ball under, which gave Sierra Pacific a 5-meter penalty.
Blanchard converted the penalty and the Golden Bears led 7-4 entering the fourth quarter. The senior converted a total of three 5-meter penalties in the match including one in the second and fourth quarters.
Lemoore had two man-up opportunities to start the fourth, but couldn’t convert either of them with Sierra Pacific’s stellar defense limiting them to one shot each time.
“I can tell by their body language whether or not they’re going to shoot,” Sierra Pacific goalkeeper Emma Enquist, who made six saves and had two steals on Wednesday, said. “Most of the time I already knew so I was just going on to the next person ready for them to shoot.”
Blanchard scored a match-high six goals and added one assist and on steal. Lord scored four goals with two assists and one steal. The two combined for eight goals in the second half, including all five in the fourth quarter, and the Golden Bears never trailed in the semifinals match.
The Golden Bears outscored the Tigers 9-3 in the second half.
“We got stagnant on our offense and that really hurt us,” Lemoore coach Stephanie Bennett said. “A couple of those early ones if we would’ve answered back then it wouldn’t have gotten away from us, but that definitely was a change.”
For Lemoore, Gonzalez led the team with two goals. Cristin Olson, Reilly Nava and DeBurger were the other goal scorers.
“My team is one that was a mix of 11 seniors and then really young,” Bennett said. “There was a big learning curve … but I’m really proud of them. They grew and overcame and stuck together as a team.”
Lemoore trailed 2-0 in the first quarter when Olson found the left corner for their first score of the match. Their goal in the second quarter came when Mia Raber passed inside to Gonzalez, who was able to lob the ball over the goalkeeper and into the corner.