By GERARDO RECINOS
It took over 100 minutes of soccer for their to be a winner in the quarter-final clash between the Knights and the Bulldogs on Saturday night.
In those 100 minutes both teams surely will have felt that they could have won the match. But the agonizing 2-2 draw on Feb. 18 between the Lady Bulldog soccer team and Las Lomas went down to penalties.
The Martinez side stepped up confident and composed and buried four penalties to move on to the next round.
In truth both teams played a better half of soccer than their opponents in the playoff clash. Alhambra got off to a dream start in the first half, while Las Lomas pulled the game back with a strong showing in the second half.
Las Lomas pressured in spates, but were kept out due to a few saves from senior Nicki Rucki. The Alhambra shot stopper made four saves in the opening half, but none bigger than the one from the feet of Las Lomas’ dangerous goal-scorer Haley Brown.
The tall senior was formidable for the Bulldogs, but after a solid spell, she was forced deeper into the middle of the pitch to retrieve the ball when the Bulldogs pressed higher. Brown was marked by Alhambra sophomore Sam Pearson in the middle of the park.
Once the Bulldogs settled in, it wasn’t long until they got their opener.
Sarah Emigh flicked a header into the box from a throw in, and it fell neatly at the feet of Marissa D’Atri. The junior winger reacted quickly and slotted a left-footed shot from close range.
The goal did come slightly against the run of play. Las Lomas settled in quicker than Alhambra, but thanks to the saves by Rucki, they still had a shot.
Las Lomas very nearly grabbed an equalizer seconds later, if not for a brilliant tackle by Chakeira Cox. The sophomore right back made a gutsy tackle in the 18-yard box to allow Alhambra to clear their lines.
Carly Agostino gratefully obliged for the opportunity to double the lead.
The tricky junior took on four defenders on her own to score the solo stunner, but a brave tackle by her fellow captain Lindsey Alford made the goal.
Alford’s tackle allowed the Bulldogs to retain possession and played a big part in Agostino scoring the ‘worldie’.
A poor tackle in the box on Agostino 10 minutes later nearly put the Bulldogs up with a third, but because the junior Bulldog didn’t go down in the box, the referee kept the whistle at his neck.
He didn’t feel the same way five minutes into the second half.
Ed Marinelli and the rest of his staff were frustrated with many of the referees’ decisions in the match (as was his Las Lomas counterpart) but the one that flattened the Bulldogs was the penalty.
Brown calmly slotted a captain’s penalty to restore faith to the home crowd. Rightfully so the Bulldog side of the field felt as if they’d been robbed. That feeling intensified when Sophia Runte slotted home a loose ball from a free kick in the 65th minute.
When it came down to it neither team was outright better than their opponent. They both played well, but extra time was all for the Bulldogs. Play was open, but in the end the Bulldogs did well to control the game. However each team had a clear-cut chance to avoid penalties.
Freshman Julia Betti played an inch-perfect over the top ball to Agostino, but the junior fired her shot into the side netting. The Knights had a shot saved from the right foot of Katelyn Beasley.
After the two extra time periods, penalties had to decide the match.
Once again, Rucki saved the team.
The senior saved the third Las Lomas penalty, while her teams Katie Christman, Emigh, Agostino and Pearson all calmly converted their spot kicks for the win.
The win puts the Bulldogs into the NCS semi-finals for the first time since 2011.
After winning the most important of the three games against the Knights, the Lady Dogs will get a chance for revenge against another team that beat them this season, the Northgate Broncos.
It’ll take two for Alhambra to get into the championship game.