By Ryan Menzie
Signal Sports Writer
Heading into Thursday’s matchup, the Hart Indians had won seven matches in a row. The West Ranch Wildcats, who had lost, 2-0, to the Indians on Jan. 4, had won four matches in a row — setting up a showdown between two of the Foothill League’s best girls’ soccer teams.
The Indians (7-1-2, 7-0-2) and the Wildcats (8-3-2, 4-3-2) showed their nerves in the first half, but concluded in dramatic fashion with neither team emerging victorious in a 1-1 tie.
Even in a game with so much weight being carried heading into the postseason, the mutual respect remains between the two teams.
“I think in sports it sometimes isn’t your day, and today wasn’t our day,” said Indians head coach Brett Croft. “West Ranch played a great game coming out excited to try to take us down after we got them in the first game. We usually like to play with a high press but today we had to play to the numbers behind the ball. That’s what we had to do with it not being our day.”
Both teams struggled early on with four shots at the goal between both teams in the first 32 minutes of the game, but with the fifth shot at goal, the Indians’ Maggie Yoshioka opened up the scoring for the game with a goal at the eight-minute mark.
The strong kick was taken from about 25 yards away from the goal off an assist from Rubi Reyes.
“Even though I was far away, I had faith to shoot it in the distance,” said Yoshioka. “This game was really important. Every single game in the second half is really important no matter the opponent. We knew West Ranch was going to come after us. Credit to West Ranch for putting it all out there but I also credit our guys for giving it their all.”
In a game in which even one goal can mean the difference of the game, the Wildcats needed an answer.
The Wildcats came into the second half with a much more aggressive attitude, already increasing their shots at the goal within just the first 10 minutes of the second half. The attempts would prove fruitful as the Wildcats’ Olivia Suarez scored at the 28-minute mark off a rebound from a shot attempt to tie the game, 1-1.
“We knew coming into this game that Hart was the best team in a very good program with good coaches and players,” said Suarez. “We were coming from our loss last time against them and missing players due to COVID-19, but now we have them back. We knew we had to play our best game and step it up because Hart is a good team.”
Both teams would ramp up the shots at the goal, but neither had any offensive luck. Even in the winding minutes of the game in extra time, the Wildcats would have multiple chances to score a goal.
Off corner kicks, the Wildcats had three chances to score at the goal, with one barely missing the goal and sending the ball out of bounds. The misses would officially end the game in a 1-1 tie.
“It felt at first the nerves were taking over the game for both teams,” said Wildcats head coach Jared White. “Neither team could find rhythm and both teams are built off of that. In the second half our girls picked up the intensity, creating a lot of pressure for Hart to handle for 40 minutes. That’s credit to our girls putting in the work.”