FRESNO — For the second year in a row, it was Sierra Pacific and Kingsburg vying for CIF Central Section Division III glory. But just like last season, the 3-seed Golden Bears walked away with the runner-up plaque.
Sierra Pacific (20-11, 8-0 ESL) struggled to find any offensive rhythm against 1-seed Kingsburg (21-9, 4-2 CSL) as they lost 10-6 and never led in the championship match at the Fresno State Aquatics Center on Saturday.
As Sierra Pacific coach Jessica Bean put it, it just wasn’t their day.
“We just didn’t play our game today,” Bean said. “We got too caught up in trying to adjust for them and not just continue to hound like we do on offense. We weren’t sticking to our game plan.”
It was the first time all season the Golden Bears allowed double-digit scoring to a Division III opponent. Offensively, it wasn’t any better as they scored a season-low six goals against a D-III team.
They had 22 shot attempts miss their target. They went wide, over the goal or hit the post — everything but the back of the net.
“Nerves had a lot to do with it today,” Sierra Pacific’s Victoria Blanchard said. “We weren’t on our game. We were prepared, but it just fell from us.”
The Golden Bears kept it tight to start the match trailing 2-0 at first, but tied it right back up on a 2-meter shot from Rylee Lord and a 4-meter shot from Blanchard. It was the only tie of the match and the closest the Golden Bears would come to taking the lead.
Kingsburg got a goal back on a fast break and Sierra Pacific trailed 3-2 after the first quarter.
“At the end of the first quarter they were 100 percent running — we were running that offense,” Bean said. “There was no way they could shut down our offense if we just played the way that we were supposed to play and I don’t know where the message was lacking after that.”
Bean wanted to see better driving and movement from her team, but none of those things materialized. Instead, Sierra Pacific allowed three consecutive goals, including a 6-on-5 power play goal, were outscored 4-1 in the second quarter and trailed 7-3 at halftime.
The Vikings started the third quarter on the attack and scored back-to-back goals for a 9-3 lead — the largest of the match. Sierra Pacific was unable to score on a man-up opportunity, but Blanchard found the net on a 5-meter shot from straightaway to give her team some life as they entered the fourth quarter down 10-4.
Isabella Tomas and Blanchard both scored in the fourth quarter and the defense held the Vikings scoreless, but it still wasn’t enough. It was Sierra Pacific’s third Valley championship loss in four years.
Blanchard scored a match-high four goals while Lord and Tomas scored one goal each.
“We got in the pool everyone was excited then second half came around and I feel like our energy just went down,” Sierra Pacific’s Hailey McGaha said. “I don’t know if that was because of our mindset or not, but we had an off day.”
Despite the loss, it was still another excellent year from the Golden Bears. They finished with a second consecutive 20-win or more season and were a perfect 8-0 as the East Sequoia League champions.
“I’m proud of them for their season,’” Bean said. “They battled hard, they had fun, they made a lot of memories, they worked hard. They’re a family and they’ll all stick together. They’ll come back at it next year and keep plugging away and keep trying.”