• Lady Eagles Madelyn Bird (left) and Jillian Olivarri (11) get ready to embrace following Bird's goal in the first half against Rio Hondo.

Lady Eagles hang on to defeat Rio Hondo

ALICE—Just as it appeared the Pleasanton girls soccer team was going to cruise to another playoff victory, Rio Hondo decided to make things interesting. Kaitlynn Peña, who began the game in goal for the Lady Bobcats, scored with 2:32 remaining to pull her team within one.

Despite a tense finish, the Lady Eagles held off Rio Hondo 2-1 Friday night at Alice’s Memorial Stadium to advance to the Region IV-4A quarterfinals against Kingsville. Pleasanton will face the Lady Brahmas at home Tuesday at 7 p.m.

“It was a little nerve-racking when we dominate a game like that and then couldn’t put it away,” Pleasanton coach Brant Bird said of the finish. “Credit [goes] to Rio Hondo for fighting there at the very end and not just packing it in. It says a lot about their character. It’s nice to come out victorious and move on to the next round.”

The closing minutes were a stark contrast from most of the contest. The Lady Eagles netted a pair of first-half goals and controlled possession until late in the game.

“I liked that we controlled the tempo of the game, especially early on,” Bird said. “I would have liked to see better finishing in front of goal. We’re going to have to do a better job of that in the next round because the opponents get better and better as we move on. I was happy with our composure early on with our passing and our movement, but we just have to finish.”

Midfielder Madelyn Bird opened the scoring in the 31st minute. After two earlier chances on goal were stopped, the freshman found the back of the net off a through ball from Jillian Olivarri.

“Jill had a great breakaway from the defense, and as I was screaming her name she found that connection,” Madelyn Bird said. “I just got a foot in there. The keeper was there, but there was a little inch there in the goal. I just managed to get my toe [on the ball] at the last second.”

Delanee Olivarri, also a freshman, joined in the scoring four minutes later. Coming off a corner kick, Delanee Olivarri executed a give-and-go that left her with space just inside the box. She found the top corner of the goal to put Pleasanton on top 2-0 with 5:33 before halftime.

“Delanee is one of our best players. She’s amazing,” Madelyn Bird said. “She works hard every day at practice. I think for her to get that goal, it was definitely well-deserved. She took the chance, and it was well-earned. It paid off.”

Through two postseason games, freshmen have accounted for six scores for Pleasanton.

“Playing [varsity] definitely took some getting used to,” Madelyn Bird said. “But I think that when we’re on the field we’re not looked upon as freshmen. I think we’re looked upon as equal to all the teammates on the field. All of us work together. I think there’s no disadvantage [to being freshmen] as long as we work our hardest and do what coach Bird has taught us.”

Despite five shots in the second half, the Lady Eagles could not extend their lead. But the Pleasanton defense stiffened after Peña got behind the defense for the late goal.

“We were a little hectic, kind of in panic mode,” Madelyn Bird said of the ending. “We were so focused on the ball that we kind of lost track of the [Peña]. But I think that we recollected and we finished out with a win. That’s all that matters.”

The Lady Eagles now find themselves in the third round for the first time since 2011.

“We’re going to have to be at the top of our game,” Brant Bird said. “But playing at home, I think, is a big advantage. We’re comfortable at home with our home crowd there behind us.”