West Ranch girls soccer claws back against Canyon

Dan Watson/The Signal

West Ranch girls soccer hosted Canyon and utilized a thunderous second half to come back and win 2-1 Thursday afternoon at West Ranch High School.

“We knew it was going to be tough and we knew it was going to take something to happen,” said West Ranch head coach Eric White. “I love that they responded.”

Neither team could establish a solid attack at the beginning of the game. Anytime the ball crossed midfield an opposing defender was there to stymy the attack.

“We definitely were communicating,” said Natalie Link a junior defender for West Ranch. “We like to push to the outside more and keep them from getting crosses.”

What started out as an evenly contested first half quickly turned sour for the Wildcats (9-7-2 overall, 3-2-1 Foothill League). The Cowboys stole the momentum and struck first in the 26th minute. 

Senior forward Analise Rappe chipped the ball from the top of the 18-yard box. The arch was perfect, and the ball floated into the net behind senior goalkeeper Hannah Everitt. She attempted the save, but the ball was just over her head.

Canyon (1-7-3, 1-3-2) senior midfielder Giselle Sayan went down with a knee injury in the 28th minute. The injury stopped play for over three minutes and time was added to the end of the half.

The Wildcats attempted to take advantage of the additional time. They gained momentum leading into the second half, but their effort bore no fruit before the whistle blew.

Canyon senior goalkeeper Aubrey McKessy was a headache for the Wildcats throughout the match. Her high soccer IQ allowed her to command the field from the back and kept her in a position to make a multitude of saves.

“Aubrey’s a leader in the back, she’s always going to be our leader,” said Canyon head coach Milan Cabrera. “Even when she makes mistakes she’s still going to be a leader in the back. Things happen, its soccer. She still played phenomenal.”

West Ranch finally cracked McKessy in the 48th minute. Sophomore midfielder Grace Bakoo capitalized on a McKessy mistake and scored the equalizer for the Wildcats. After a save, McKessy’s pass went awry and Bakoo took control. McKessy stepped up but Bakoo denied her the save with a rocket to the other post for her first league goal.

“It came at a really needed time,” Bakoo said. “We really needed that for ourselves to build confidence for the next few games. I was mad that we were down 1-0 because I knew our team was better than that, so I just went for it.”

Sophomore forward Cassidy Imperial-Pham said the offense drew inspiration from Bakoo’s goal.

“I think when Grace scored that tying goal, it made us want it more than them,” she said. “In the first half it felt like we didn’t want it, but once she scored it felt like we needed (the go-ahead goal).”

From that point on, the Wildcats had full control of the game. McKessy was under duress constantly but managed to keep her head on straight and ward off the attack. 

West Ranch broke through again in the waning moments of the match. Junior forward Yumary Rubio and Imperial-Pham chased a loose ball as it approached the goal. Rubio got to it first and knocked it out of McKessy’s reach for the go-ahead goal.

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“I saw Cass going up there, so I had to support my girl,” Rubio said. “I knew my team needed this so when it came down to it, I had to put it in the back of the net.”

Junior midfielder Leanna Kane had an opportunity to seal the win for the Wildcats in the 76th minute on a penalty kick. A smart play went wrong. The kick skimmed the outside of the right post.

“That miss allowed us to say, ‘look, we’re still in this game,’” Cabrera said. “It gave us a little bit of hope to get into the attack. That’s when we put the forwards up to put them under pressure.”

With less than two minutes left, the Cowboys lined up for a free kick. Sophomore Cassidy Cerin fired the ball high and towards the crowd. Link rose up and headed the ball away with authority, effectively denying Canyon an opportunity to equalize.

“I was very happy because sometimes I miss those headers,” Link said. “I watched the ball and I timed my jump right so I could push out and play the ball out. Being able to play that out and my team getting to the ball made me very excited.”

Foothill League girls soccer will continue on Tuesday. Canyon will stay on the road and head to Golden Valley. West Ranch will travel to Saugus. Both games are at 3:15 p.m.

“Second half of league, this is what it’s about,” White said. “It’s the home stretch.”

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