By Ray Hamill — There’s something to be said for peaking at the right time.
After losing four times in four matchups to Fortuna this season, the Arcata Tigers finally got the better of their close rivals in a big North Coast Section semifinal showdown on Wednesday night, running out to a 2-0 win in an entertaining and intense affair at Husky Field.
“That’s why we play the games,” Arcata head coach Patrick Stranahan said afterwards with a smile.
In what has become the most intriguing local soccer rivalry, the outcome was the opposite of a year ago when the Huskies beat Arcata on the road as the lower seed, after having lost all three matchups between the two that season.
They went on to win the NCS championship.
This time, however, it was the Tigers who got the breakthrough victory at an opportune time, and once again there was little between the two teams.
“Tonight we had the bounce go our way,” Stranahan said.
As expected in a matchup between two of the top three teams in the Humboldt-Del Norte League, this was a well-played and hard-fought game.
Both teams came out strong, with Fortuna’s Darly Diaz coming closest early with a powerful long range shot that drifted just wide of the target.
The Tigers answered with a chance of their own just moments later, when senior Karina Zumbrun sent her long range effort just wide.
Zumbrun was as influential as ever in midfield, alongside fellow senior captain Nina Crossen, who was a consistent threat all night.
With the industrious Zakiya Elloway-Wonenberg also making her presence felt, the Tigers began to assert control and were the more dangerous team in the opening half, with the junior standout setting several attacks in motion.
The visitors got the breakthrough midway through the period when Audrey Shelton netted from close range after a Zumbrun shot curled across the goalmouth.
The goal appeared to wake the Huskies up, and the home team began to grow in composure as the first half closed out.
Up front, Kallia Yang had a couple of nice moves to create scoring opportunities, but an Arcata defense anchored by the ever-reliable Gwyn Stratton and Zoe Leonard gave little away.
On the few occasions they did, goalkeeper Skaidra Pulley was up to the challenge, making some big saves, as she has been doing for much of the year.
For Fortuna, midfielder Nyah Cacren was creative as ever, and matched up effectively against the dynamic Arcata midfield, with Fortuna’s Giselle Cruz and Casandra Cortes each also making their presence felt.
Both defenses made several physical tackles to deny their opponents, with Lauren Tindall and Lorelei Lorang shutting down several Arcata attacks with another disciplined performance.
Crossen almost doubled the advantage seven minutes into the second half with a beautiful shot that sailed just over the bar, with Pulley then keeping her team in the lead with a spectacular save midway through the period off a Cacren free kick (see the video highlights).
The home team grew more dangerous as the game went on, and began to assert more control in midfield.
But it was the visitors who made their opportunities count, adding a second goal seven minutes from time, when Zumbrun headed home off an Elloway-Wonenberg corner kick.
Sarah Jensen and Bella Garrett each also had solid performances for the visitors and have become two of the team’s most consistent players, while Sarah Hohman and Sarah Killfoil each played well for Fortuna.
The Huskies close out the season at 14-5-1, while the Tigers improved to 14-7-1 and will now play Eureka for the NCS championship on Saturday.