Late goal sinks Eagle women’s soccer

Brandi Barnett jockeys for position with a Canyon Lake defender during Pleasanton’s 2-1 loss in the area round of playoffs on Tuesday, March 30. SAM FOWLER | PLEASANTON EXPRESS

A goal in the final 19 minutes ended the Pleasanton Eagles women’s soccer team’s playoff run.

Canyon Lake’s Maddie Pipkin was able to slide a 1-on-1 shot under senior goalkeeper Sydney Merecka in the 61st minute to eventually hand Pleasanton (14-10-1) a 2-1 loss in the area round of the playoffs on Tuesday night at Alamo Heights’ Harry B. Orem Stadium. Pleasanton had two unfruitful chances to tie the game in the final five minutes.

It was Pleasanton’s 13th consecutive appearance in the area round of the playoffs.

“I’m extremely proud,” Head Coach Brant Bird said. “Friday night, we didn’t play our best game. It was a gutty effort; defense really carried us through. Tonight, after the first 25 or 30 minutes, we calmed down.”

After Canyon Lake’s Gabi Pace opened the scoring in the 13th minute by heading home Emily Peña’s corner kick, Pleasanton equalized 20 minutes later with Brandi Barnett finishing off a through ball from Renata Osorio. The game remained tied 1-1 at halftime.

“It felt like we finally found that chemistry,” Osorio, a senior midfielder said. “Although it’s late in the season, it felt like everything was coming together. Even without verbal cues, everything was just simple, basic, fundamental soccer.”

Bird’s game plan entering Tuesday’s match was to sit back and defend against the Hawks’ speed. Canyon Lake used that speed to beat Pleasanton 2-0 in the opening match of the Battle in the Brush Country tournament in January. Pipkin scored both goals in that match.

Pleasanton felt restricted with that game plan and, after three minutes, Bird decided to scrap the plan and let his team play freely.

Minutes later, in the 12th minute, sophomore forward Brylee Miller got through into the penalty area before being tackled prior to getting a shot attempt away.

Brylee Miller looks to play a ball into the box with a Canyon Lake defender bearing down on her. SAM FOWLER | PLEASANTON EXPRESS

“Once [coach Bird] changed it up, we were more confident because we knew how to play that way instead of just defending and kicking it upfield,” senior Kaitlyn Garcia said. “We had chances to shoot and we played our normal game.”

The eventual winning goal came against the run of play. Pleasanton had three chances snuffed out in the first 11 minutes of the second half compared to just one chance from Canyon Lake.

“I thought we had the better play in the second half,” Bird said. “It was a whole team effort, as opposed to Friday night, which was more defensively minded. It speaks to the closeness of the girls and how they were willing to trust each other. … Credit to Canyon Lake, they’re a good team. I think, give us another shot at them, we might have a different result.”

Osorio’s play in the midfield was lauded by her coach and teammates. The senior midfielder stepped up to be the dynamo which Pleasanton’s offense went through.

“She’s been a key part of this team all year,” Bird praised. “Her leadership, both on and off the field, and knowing that she’s there. Her physical presence and soccer IQ are second to none. … If people are going to get by her, it’s not going to be frequent.”

Tuesday’s loss brought closure for the 2021 season, something that wasn’t present after the coronavirus pandemic abruptly ended the 2020 season a year ago.

“It gives me a lot of closure,” Garcia said. “Last year, we couldn’t finish the season because of COVID. We were able to put our hearts out on the field like it was our last game and it was. We hoped we could make it past this round, but we still left our hearts on the field.”

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