The Cats donned the visiting whites Tuesday night to take on the Lancers of St. Francis, clad in the home browns, under the lights in Mountain View, for the right to advance to the CCS Open Division Final. Both sides came out tentative, feeling out the defense for seams and vulnerabilities. As a result, the ball remained mostly in the middle of the field for the first twenty minutes of play, neither team getting more than two or three consecutive touches before a defender would control or clear the ball. The scoring chances were few and far between. In the 5th minute, senior captain Kelli Keady tapped it to Lainey Engles for a shot from 35 yards out that sailed left of the goal and out of bounds. Two minutes later, Keady punched it wide to the right for the sprinting junior Niki Krockenberger, but it was just out of reach and rolled out of bounds. In the 13th minute, St. Francis launched a free kick into the Wildcat box that bounced once in the open before senior goalkeeper Bekah Delgado snatched it out of the air.
The intensity increased in the next twenty, as both squads began actively attacking. St. Francis took a shot in the 21st minute that sailed so high over the crossbar, it would have taken two lances to reach it. In the 25th minute, junior captain Emily Nedom sent a ball forward to Krockenberger, but it was tipped away by a defender. St. Francis had a free kick in the 28th minute, but the shot went wide right. A Lancer attacker broke into the box four minutes later, but Delgado made a sliding save, booting the ball away. Finally, in the 33rd minute, the tie was broken. Nedom took a free kick from outside the box that the Lancer keeper tipped over the crossbar, resulting in a corner kick from the right. Nedom sent that corner on the goal, but it, too, was tipped out of bounds, leading to a kick from the other corner, which Nedom placed right on the head of senior captain Isabella Scott, who directed it into the back of the net. Delgado made two more saves in the final minutes of the half to preserve the lead, and the Cats were up 1 – 0 at the whistle.
The Lancers came out looking for the equalizer in the second, attacking early and often. The Cats held off the assault for a while, remaining defensively stout in the 45th minute, when St. Francis had a free kick that led to a corner in which they had three good looks at the net. But in the 47th minute, the Lancers broke through, taking a throw-in from the right sideline, passing three times, and taking a shot from 30 yards out that just cleared the fingertips of the leaping Delgado. The pace became frenzied, both squads vying for the lead but sacrificing rhythm for long lead-outs and slim chances. In the 49th minute, Nedom had a free-kick fly just wide to the right of the goal. In the 56th minute, St. Francis had a break down the left side, but Delgado made the stop. One minute later, St. Francis had a corner kick the led to a wide shot. In the 63rd minute, Keady evaded three defenders and sent the ball into the box for a Krockenberger header, but it was just a little out of her reach. In the 72nd minute, St. Francis had a free kick that led to a corner and a shot that flew wide left. But the Lancers kept pushing. Delgado made three saves in the next two minutes before St. Francis found the net in the 75th minute: a Lancer attacker broke open down the right side and sent a cross through the box, past Delgado, and just past the outstretched foot of the St. Francis player, who fell down trying to poke it in. But the ball continued to roll, and a Lancer from the left side cut in to bury the ball into the net before the Cat defense could adjust. The Cats tried to even it up, but the Lancers sagged back on defense, content to clear the ball each time it came near them, and waited for the final whistle to blow.
Despite the disappointing loss, the Cats expect to receive a NorCal bid, where they will embark on the road to a possible state playoff. The brackets for the NorCal regionals will be released on Sunday.