The West Ranch girls soccer team traveled almost 50 miles south to Downey High School on Wednesday for its first-round matchup in the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 playoffs.
The Wildcats overcame an uncharacteristic first half to even the score early in the second half, but lost to the Vikings 2-1 after conceding a goal in the 70th minute.
Having never played Downey before, West Ranch found it difficult to find a rhythm in the first and struggled to keep up with the Vikings’ speed on the wings.
The second half was more reminiscent of Wildcats soccer, as they were able to control the ball better and attack relentlessly.
“We didn’t think we had a great first half. I think it took us a little while to get used to their speed and the intensity that they were going to bring having never played, never seen them before,” West Ranch head coach Jared White said. “I thought in the second half when we challenged them to dig a little deeper, they did, and I thought we played pretty well in the second half and had our opportunities.”
Downey’s first goal in the 17th minute came in bizarre fashion as the Vikings took a corner kick, but instead of crossing the ball into the box it was played near the top right corner of the box.
The Vikings fired a shot that deflected off of West Ranch keeper Hannah Everitt and hit the right post, then West Ranch seemingly cleared the ball.
None of the players on either team thought it went in and kept playing, but the center referee blew his whistle and signaled a goal, much to the dismay of the West Ranch sideline.
“I didn’t think it went in, I thought it hit the post. The referee said that it hit some bar that comes across. It’s one of those things that’s frustrating because everybody on the field, no one thought it went in either, you can kind of tell that reaction,” White said. “So I think if you’re going to make that call you have to be 100 percent sure it was in. If nobody on the field thinks it’s in, it’s probably a pretty good indication.”
The Wildcats didn’t let the early goal deter them, recovering in the second half to even the score in the 44th minute.
Freshman Cassidy Imperial-Pham made a run down the left sideline, applying pressure and earning a corner kick for West Ranch.
Imperial-Pham delivered the corner and the ball went off the head of a Downey player right to senior center back Kaylani Miranda, who headed it into the back right corner of the net.
“I thought we fought back pretty well after that and it showed the resilience and the leadership of the seniors and the resilience of the younger ones,” White said. “The effort was awesome, I’m proud of them.”
West Ranch stayed aggressive and kept applying pressure near Downey’s goal, but couldn’t find the back of the net a second time.
The Vikings scored the game-winner in the 70th minute, as one of their attacking wings made a run down the right sideline and crossed the ball into the box, finding a Downey player who used her head to flick it into the box.
“We always preach ‘limit shots,’ and I think they had three, four, maybe five shots all game that were quality,” White said. “They ended up getting two. Well, we’re not sure if they got two, but we know they got one.”
The Wildcats were without senior forward Tatum Summerfield, who was injured in practice on Tuesday.
Summerfield had been an integral part of West Ranch’s offense all season, and it was yet another wrinkle that the Wildcats had to deal with, a theme from the entire season.
“Another hurdle that we had to overcome. Obviously our game plan all week was to have her heavily involved. She’s a big part, so that was a big loss,” White said of not having Summerfield. “It’s not one that will show in the books or anything, but losing her was tough. We tried to rally around that cause. You lose a senior leader and your starting No. 9, that’s tough to overcome without any practice time.”
While the Wildcats didn’t get the final result they were hoping for, White told his team after the game to remember the moment and use it as fuel to get better in the offseason.
He also told them to be proud of what they accomplished, becoming the first West Ranch team in school history to record six league wins and earn a No. 2 seed.
“Take it for what it is. It’s a moment in your life that can be frustrating, but be proud of the effort and at the end of the day if you can look yourself in the mirror and say I gave it my best, then there’s nothing else that matters,” he said. “We told the younger ones, keep this feeling because it sucks and hold onto that and work hard in the offseason. Get a little stronger, get a little faster and take this experience.
“For the seniors, remember the good times, not this crappy feeling right now. Setting the West Ranch record for six league wins, finishing as a No. 2 seed, getting a playoff game, that’s something to be proud of.”