Gilroy's Maddie Eastus battles with San Benito's Laine Lowi in the CCS Division III playoff semifinals. Photo by Bryant Hammer.
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After 80 minutes of regulation and 20 minutes of overtime, the Gilroy and San Benito girls soccer teams were tied 1-1 and headed to a penalty kick shootout to decide the outcome of their Central Coast Section Division III playoff semifinal on Wednesday. 

The Haybalers almost looked giddy and excited at the prospect of a PK session because they had just gone through it four days earlier to advance out of the opening round. They prevailed again, this time against the host Mustangs, winning the shootout, 4-1, to advance to Friday’s 6pm championship match at top-seed Christopher. It marks the first time in program history San Benito has reached a section playoff final. 

“I felt pretty good when the game went into PKs, and the team did as well,” Haybalers coach Becky Bonner said. “We’ve literally been practicing PKs for the past two weeks because we recognized if it went into overtime, we needed to know who was going to kick and have a rotation of who was going in.”

For the No. 6 seed Mustangs (3-3), they were left to wonder what could have been. They controlled the time of possession, often for long stretches at a time, had a 4-0 advantage in corner kicks and outshot San Benito, 10-3. Gilroy had several golden scoring opportunities, especially late in regulation and in the two mandatory 10-minute overtime periods, but couldn’t finish. 

“I think we left some on the field,” Mustangs coach Efren Pineda said. “We had some tap-in chances we didn’t convert, and it came back to bite us.”

The No. 7 seed Balers (7-5) were coming off a win over Castilleja after prevailing in a marathon PK session, 7-6. This shootout didn’t have nearly the drama as San Benito took control early as Trinity Arias, Nicole Maduena and Yuvia Padilla all connected, while Gilroy misfired on its second and third attempts. Jimena Heredia, San Benito’s fourth player to kick, converted to clinch the outcome. 

Gilroy routed San Benito 5-0 earlier in the season, but the Balers have come a long way from a health standpoint since then. 

“The first time we played them, nine out of our 15 girls were injured,” Bonner said. “Not only did we have a lot of players injured, but we had multiple girls playing out of position.”

The Balers only had a few scoring chances during the run of play, and their lone goal came off a set piece. In the 17th minute, Laine Lowi stunned Gilroy with a beautiful free kick from 36 yards away that sailed just under the top crossbar for a 1-0 lead. Gilroy got the equalizer in the 46th minute when Maddie Eastus pounced on a loose ball in the penalty area after teammate Mary Jane Porter’s shot was deflected away by Balers goalkeeper Shaelyn Tamez. 

Eastus was often involved in the run of play and the catalyst for Gilroy winning the time of possession. She nearly scored in the 80th minute, as her free kick from 22 yards away seemingly was going to find the San Benito goal. However, Tamez got just enough of the ball that it bounced off the underside of the top post and straight back down to the field of play. Tamez was solid yet again in goal, Heredia made several strong defensive plays throughout and Lowi sparked the team with her ability to control the ball in the center of the field. 

Gilroy’s Lexi Wilson and Gianna Bozzo were active throughout, and Dahlia Saavedra played a key role in Gilroy’s time of possession advantage. Despite the loss, Pineda said the program is on the rise.  

“Half of our team is freshmen and sophomores, and they got a taste of CCS,” he said. “So this was a great turnout of a season. Next year expectations are high, it’s good our program learns and we’ll look to come back even stronger.”

Pineda also expects to have increased numbers next season, a more seasoned goalkeeper in Camberly Jhonson who performed admirably in her first year at the position, and improved play all across the board as players continue to develop during the club season. 

“They will take this result and do what it takes to get better,” Pineda said. 

Bonner is particularly proud of her players for overcoming and eventually thriving amid adversity.

“Through it all, the girls had such a great attitude as they built one another up, and that is part of the reason why they’re here is because when you get to those challenging situations, a lot of people crash down,” she said. “But these girls stand by each other, and as a coach it’s nice because you don’t always have years like this where they’re building something positive even though they’ve gone through some tough things around them.”

San Benito and Christopher will run it back for a third time this season, with the Cougars prevailing in the first two matches by scores of 3-0 and 2-0. 

“Christopher is a very good team, but I’m confident if the girls come out and don’t give up, I think they’ll be able to give them a run for their money,” Bonner said. “Either way, I’m proud of the effort they’ve put in this season and how they keep rising up every time they have challenges.”

Mustangs freshman Dahlia Saavedra battles the Balers’ Trinity Arias in Wednesday’s match. Photo by Bryant Hammer.
Gilroy junior Lexi Wilson looks to make a play against San Benito. Photo by Bryant Hammer.
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Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.


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