By Ray Hamill — The Crusaders had to battle back from a pair of deficits on Tuesday on the way to clinching the Little 4 girls soccer championship.
The St. Bernard’s girls came into the regular season finale at Ferndale needing just a tie against their closest rivals to claim the league crown, and they delivered with a 2-2 result.
Amber Smith netted an equalizing goal to make it 2-2 after a wonderful move from Madelyn Shanahan and an assist form Sahara Tupua 10 minutes into the second half.
The Wildcats refused to go down without a fight, however, and came close to pulling out the victory with multiple chances in the second half, including a free kick by league MVP candidate Regan Russ that hit the crossbar.
“It was a great team effort, especially the second half,” SB head coach Brian Finck said. “It was everything you expected from a championship game. The parents and fans were thoroughly entertained.”
It was an evenly-match game that could have gone either way, with the home team coming out fired up for the occasion and setting the early tone.
“We always know when we play SB it’s going to be a battle,” Ferndale head coach Bailey Davy said. “Between the crowd and the two teams it’s always an intense game.”
Teresa Catana gave the Cats an early lead just six minutes into the game off an assist from Madison Gossi, but Hannah Finck would equalize for the visitors from the penalty spot.
“The girls came ready to play,” Davy said. “They knew what was at stake for this game.”
The Crusaders, however, would regroup at halftime and reigning league MVP Shanahan provided a moment of magic to help seal the league-winning tie when she dribbled half the length of the field before passing to Tupua, who made a nice move to create some space out wide and crossed into the box for Smith to volley home.
The second half was a back-and-forth battle with both teams creating chances to add to their tally.
Check out the St. Bernard’s goals below …
Shanahan and Russ both were outstanding at the back for their respective teams, while also setting in motion several of their team’s attacks.
“Regan Russ had a phenomenal game,” Davy said of the senior standout. “There’s no doubt in my mind that she is MVP of the league material.
“She has had an outstanding season. She’s been consistent, and although she’s our sweeper she’s one of our leading scorers.”
Sophomore Tinnley Pidgeon returned in goal for Ferndale after remising three games through injury and “didn’t miss a beat,” according to the coach.
St. Bernard’s sophomore Emma Mowery also made a couple of critical second-half saves to keep her team level.
“Of course at the end of the day, a tie isn’t what we wanted or needed to come out on top, but I am very impressed and proud of how we played last night and how we handled the pressure of a game that would make or break the league champion,” Davy said. “I’m confident this will give us the momentum we are needing for playoffs.”
According to MaxPreps, the Crusaders are the top-ranked Division-3 team in the North Coast Section, while the Wildcats are No. 2.
So there is every reason to believe these two teams could meet again in the upcoming NCS playoffs.
The playoffs brackets and seeds will be announced on Sunday.