Crusaders battle back late in exciting NCS semifinal showdown

Photos by Ray Hamill/HumboldtSports.com – Action from Friday’s NCS semifinal showdown at St. Bernard’s.

By Ray Hamill — The St. Bernard’s girls are headed back to the NCS championship game after barely getting the better of Ferndale in a highly-entertaining soccer semifinal showdown in Eureka on Friday afternoon.

Emma Wilson netted twice in the dying minutes, including once from the penalty spot, to lead the home side back from the brink of elimination in a 2-1 victory over their Little 3 rivals.

“They kept trying and I was proud of them for that,” St. Bernard’s head coach Danny Roscoe said.

Both teams gave their all in difficult conditions, in a game played on a muddy field and in persistent rain, and it was another epic battle between two teams that know each other well and two teams that had tied in their previous two meetings.

“Obviously it’s a tough loss, but I’m super proud of the girls,” Ferndale head coach Beth Anderson said. “They improved so much throughout the season.

“They played hard. That’s just how it is sometimes.”

Regan Russ, one of several players to impress for the visitors, gave her team the lead midway through a first half that saw the Cats enjoy the better of exchanges.

The Crusaders, however, responded after the interval and dominated for long periods of the second half, finally getting the breakthrough with just a few minutes remaining and then netting the winner in injury time.

“The difference between the two halves is we kind of pushed to more of an offensive mindset,” Roscoe said.

Wilson was a constant threat almost every time she touched the ball and tied the game with a composed finish after running on to a long pass over the Ferndale defense and slotting past the oncoming keeper.

Emma Wilson

Just a few minutes later, she netted a second goal, this time from the penalty spot after a Ferndale defender used her hand to block a Bella Macki shot that was headed into the goal.

The Ferndale defense did a good job soaking up the Crusaders pressure, especially in the second half, with the sure-footed Lillian Chase-Rocha leading the way along the back line.

Both goalies — Ferndale’s Bella Stephens and St. Bernard’s Hannah Eads — were also outstanding in the slippery conditions.

Eads has only recently stepped into the new role, splitting time between the posts with teammate Kiara Robinson after starting goalkeeper Sarah McBreyer was lost to injury.

The Ferndale girls celebrate their goal.

Defensively, senior sweeper Ema Brenes led a composed performance in the win, alongside freshman Laila Florvilus, who stepped up her game while filling in for the injured Sienna Bulluck-Martinez.

“I think our entire defense played well,” Roscoe said of the unit that also included Hannah Finck, Alondra Adkins and Olivia Eads.

For Ferndale, Gabby Riley was outstanding up front, slipping by several SB defenders with some great footwork despite the slippery conditions, while Malela Fulton and Kyla Albee both set the tone in the middle of the field.

“Ferndale played well,” Roscoe said. “They’ve improved and we were on the ropes for a while. Their girls played a really good game.”

Ferndale’s Clara Christiansen

The conditions didn’t help either team, but both did their best to adapt.

“I thought they played with intensity,” Anderson said of her players. “And they played physically, which we needed to do to stay in that game.”

This was the fifth meeting between these two rivals this season, with little to separate them in the past three games.

St. Bernard’s will now play in a third straight NCS championship game after qualifying for the decider in 2018 and 2019. There was no championship held last season.

The Crusaders beat Technology for the section title in 2019, after previously winning the NCS in 1999 and 2003.

They will play for the title on Wednesday at a yet-to-be determined location, depending on what happens in the second semifinal on Saturday, between No. 1 Upper Lake and No. 4 South Fork.

The loss ends the season for the Wildcats, who graduate four seniors — Riley, Stephens, Fulton and Sydney Smith — each of whom played a major role with the team this year.

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