Every team has at least one clunker of a game during the season. One of those games where nothing goes right and leaves everyone scratching their heads about what went wrong.
Thursday was one of those games for the Sequoia girls’ soccer team. Unfortunately for the Ravens, it came at the worst possible time.
Entering Thursday’s game against host Menlo-Atherton, the Ravens had quietly position themselves to be in the division championship mix. They were two points behind Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division-leading Carlmont and one point ahead of third-place Woodside with three games remaining in the regular season.
But one mistake cost them. A ball squirted past the Sequoia defense and M-A was there to take advantage, scoring just before halftime and making it stand in a 1-0 Bears’ victory.
“It was excellent by us,” said M-A head coach Jason Luce, whose team is scrambling to make the Central Coast Section playoffs.
“We needed it.”
For Sequoia, it was only its second loss of the season, but there may not be a more disappointing game for the Ravens. Making the result even harder to swallow was that for the opening 40 minutes, the Ravens looked nothing like a team challenging for a division title.
“We just came out flat and not ready to play,” said a flabbergasted Melissa Schmidt, Sequoia head coach. “I was shuttling players in and out. I was trying to infuse some energy. It never caught on.”
M-A (4-4-2 PAL Bay, 14 points) absolutely controlled play in the first half and while it didn’t translate into a lot of scoring chances, the Bears did keep Sequoia (6-2-2, 20 points) pinned into its own end, stifling the Ravens’ offense in the process.
Sequoia contributed to its woes with an inability to string passes together. Several times a pass went to no one or went to a M-A player. The Ravens just could not find a rhythm in the opening 40 minutes.
“No one was connecting,” Schmidt said. “To M-A’s credit, they put a lot of pressure on us that we weren’t expecting. They didn’t pressure us like that the first time we played them (a Sequoia 2-1 win Jan. 9).”
As poorly as Sequoia’s front line and midfield were playing, the Ravens’ backline was holding solid. The Bears would build through the midfield, but the Sequoia defensive quartet of Phoebe Henige, Mackenzie Caswell, Jules Kuramoto and sweeper Erica Heist stood up the Bears attack at the top of the penalty box.
The inability of Sequoia keep the ball for any length of time offensively, however, ultimately led to M-A’s goal as the Bears just kept coming at the Ravens’ goal. The Bears’ first real scoring chance came in the 23rd minute off a free kick 50 yards out. Judy Demirkol, who proved dangerous on several set pieces, sent a cross into the Sequoia penalty box where she found Juliet Dineen. But her header was saved.
But the Bears kept getting closer. In the 35th minute, M-A earned a corner kick. Fabiana Bolanas sent a cross to the top of the box that was headed wide by Lexi Quinn.
Three minutes before halftime, the Bears finally broke through. Jane Fiorentino triggered the sequence with a cross toward the middle of the Sequoia penalty box. The ball bounced and the Sequoia defender fanned on a clearance attempt, allowing Emily Garcia to sneak around and have only the goalkeeper to beat. As the goalkeeper raced at her, Garcia calmly slotted a shot into the far left corner for the goal in the 37th minute.
“It was inevitable,” Schmidt said. “Someone was going to make a mistake and we were going to pay for it.”
Considering it was M-A Senior Day, it was only appropriate that Garcia, a senior, scored what turned out to be the winning goal.
“I think it’s her first (this season),” Luce said.
The goal finally seemed to wake up the Sequoia offense. After the halftime break, the Ravens did to M-A what the Bears did to them in the first half. Sequoia had the better run of play over the second 40 minutes but, unlike the Sequoia defense, the M-A backline did not crack.
The closest Sequoia came to scoring came in the 73rd minute when Caswell, from 40 yards out, sent a free kick on frame that was tipped wide by the M-A goalkeeper.
“The second half was Sequoia playing Sequoia soccer,” Schmidt said. “It’s a tough [loss] to take today. … It is more disappointing at this point of the season.”
For M-A, the win was crucial to its postseason chances. Only the top three in the Bay Division automatically qualify for CCS and, as M-A assistant coach Paul Snow said, the fourth-place team out of the Bay usually secures an at-large bid — provided that team has a .500 record. The Bears were only 2-3-2 in non-league play and currently sit with an overall record of 6-7-4.
But the win over the Ravens moves their Bay Division mark to 4-4-2 with two games remaining, meaning there is little margin for error in securing a playoff spot.
“We pretty much have to win out,” Luce said.