There was a lot on the line for the Palo Alto girls' soccer team in its final league match of the season against Los Gatos on Friday afternoon.
A victory would keep Paly alive in the race for the SCVAL De Anza Division championship, while a loss would eliminate the Vikings and, potentially, move them into fourth place.
In the end, neither result came to pass as the Vikings and Wildcats were too evenly matched to determine a definitive winner.
Helped by sophomore defenseman Alison Lu's goal, Paly overcame a late one-goal deficit to force a 2-2 tie against the Wildcats.
"Our girls have a lot of heart this year. They play with a lot passion, particularly today," Paly head coach Kurt Devlin said. "That's a quality team we played, very talented. We got a lot to look forward to in the CCS."
With the tie, Paly 6-2-4, 22 points) dropped from a tie for first and into third place in the De Anza Division, and was eliminated from title contention after Los Altos (7-1-3, 24 points) and Mountain View (6-0-5, 23) both won their matches Friday. Los Gatos, meanwhile, sits in fourth at 6-3-2 (20 points).
Although presumably the top four teams in the division will make the CCS tournament, only the top three teams in the division are given automatic bids. For Paly to finish in the top three, it will need Los Altos to beat Los Gatos on the road next week.
Although Paly's season has for the most part been an enormous success, Devlin was still a little disappointed that the Vikings couldn't win the De Anza Division after winning the El Camino Division a year ago.
"I knew if things went right this year, we would have a good chance of winning the (De Anza) championship. Go from first to first," Devlin said. "That was the goal because we have good players here who play at high levels with clubs, and I think you have to put some demands on them and challenge them in order to get more out of them."
The game against Los Gatos opened with Paly controlling the time of possession, but the Vikings were unable to score despite some good looks at the net by junior midfielder Lena Chang and senior forward Megan Tall.
With 12:30 to go in the first half, the Wildcats got on the scoreboard first, as Kayla McQuade converted a fast-break opportunity, giving Los Gatos a 1-0 lead.
Paly responded just before the end of the half, as Tall took a pass from junior midfielder Katie Foug, and was able to score from a tough angle right beside the end line.
"I was aiming for the goal," said Tall, whose other goal this season was delivered in a similar fashion. "Heidi (Moeser) was coming up for the rebound and I was just trying to feather it on top so it would go in."
Midway through the second half Los Gatos almost took the lead on a great shot from midfielder Angela Karamanos, but freshman goalkeeper Dhara Yu saved the day for the Vikings, diving to her left to block the goal.
Shortly after, the tide began to turn for Paly, as a couple of questionable calls put the Vikings at a sizeable disadvantage.
First, Lu was given a yellow card in the box after an apparent push in the back, giving Los Gatos a penalty kick with 17 minutes remaining. Kristie Braken-Guelke converted the kick to give the Wildcats a 2-1 advantage.
"One, I thought it was a soft call. Two, for our defenders, we got to be better," Devlin said. "We can't allow the referee to make that call by doing that. The (Los Gatos) player was contained, she was going nowhere. If it was a push then it's half of our fault too, by giving (the ref) the opportunity to make that call."
A few minutes later, Jacey Pederson appeared to tie up the score for Paly on a long direct kick that somehow squeezed through an onslaught of defenders and into the net. However, Paly was hit with another punch to the gut, as an offside call negated the tying goal.
"That was definitely a surprise," Pederson said of the offside call. "I thought that was going to be a clean goal and was definitely shocked by that call."
Pederson was undeterred however, and with four minutes left in the game, she sent a great ball up the field for Lu, who managed to pop the ball over the Wildcats' goalkeeper and into the net to tie up the game.
"We moved (Pederson) up to the middle so we could have more of an attack oriented play," Tall said of the Vikings late game strategy.
The rest of the contest was fairly uneventful, as neither team took another shot on goal.
Looking ahead to a possible CCS game, Devlin felt his team would stand a good chance against whomever they might face.
"If we play like we did today in CCS our girls are going to do well," Devlin said. "In my own opinion, I think our team is as good as any team in the section. I got a lot of confidence in them. Probably more than they do in themselves, because I see our ability out here. It's good."
The one big area for improvement Devlin mentioned was finishing shots around the goal, a sentiment that was echoed by his players.
"We need to improve on just finishing our chances," Pederson said. "We get a lot of chances, and we create a lot of chances, but one of our struggles is putting them away. So I think if we can work on that, we can put up quite a few more goals against bigger teams."
Paly still has a nonleague opponent left on its schedule, as the Vikings visit defending CCS Division III champion King's Academy on Tuesday at 3:30 p.m.
Sacred Heart Prep remained in line to finish the West Bay Athletic League race with perfect record following a 5-2 win over visiting Eastside Prep on Friday in Atherton. The Gators improved to 12-0 in league (13-4-1 overall) with two matches remaining next week. SHP already has clinched its sixth straight WBAL title.
Seniors Isaac Polkinhorne and Ricky Grau combined for two goals in the first half, with Polkinhorne getting the goals. Polkinhorne also had a hand in the winning goal as he assisted on Andrew Segre's goal that gave SHP a 3-0 lead.
Eastside Prep scored two goals before the half to close the gap, but junior Cam Chapman made it 4-0 in the second half with an assist from Polkinhorne. Grau got his third assist of the match when his pass to junior Justin Galvin resulted in the Gators' final goal. The Sacred Heart Prep senior class is now 48-1-5 in league play.
Also in Atherton, Menlo School defeated visiting Harker, 2-0, in a physical WBAL contest on Senior Day to keep their CCS hopes alive. Harker got off to a strong start as it quickly put the Knights (10-5-3 overall, 8-3-1 in league) under pressure and were unfortunate not to take the lead. The Eagles served a dangerous cross off a throw-in that ended up in the back of the net but was called back for offsides.
The scare awoke Menlo and it responded by increasing its energy level and pressuring the Harker goal. The Knights looked to have gone ahead after sophomore midfielder Matt Joss headed home off a set piece but again the goal was called back, this time for a foul elsewhere in the box.
Menlo started the second half with more desire and determination. Midway through the half, sophomore striker Will Chisholm was played in by fellow sophomore Keaton Shiveley, turned his defender in the box and beat the Eagles' keeper at his near post to put the Knights ahead. Having seized the momentum, Menlo put the game away a minute later. Senior captain John Strong served a dangerous ball to the back post that Joss headed off the post before sophomore striker Tyler McGraw bundled it home.
Harker stepped up their intensity as the Eagles fought to get back in the game but were unable to beat junior keeper Alex Moore, who recorded his seventh league shutout. The back line of seniors Travis Chambers and captain Justin Wang and sophomores Andrew Arnold and Michael Quezada put in another solid performance in the win.
"We knew going in that we had no margin for error after Wednesday's setback and the boys responded accordingly," said second-year head coach Marc Kerrest. "The effort, determination and desire they showed in today's game helped us get the result we needed. We are playing some of our best soccer of the season at the right time of year and, hopefully, we can keep our strong level of play going next week and find a way to secure a spot in CCS."
In the SCVAL De Anza Division, Palo Alto wrapped up its season with a 2-1 loss to host Los Gatos in SCVAL De Anza Division play on Friday afternoon. The Vikings, who finished 3-5-4 (7-8-5 overall), started the scoring on a blocked shot that was followed up and pushed into the corner by junior Xavier Sherer. The rest of the half included several blocked shots by both keepers with Tony Maharaj of Paly making several keys saves.
The second half started with a miscommunication between two Paly center backs. The Los Gatos striker picked up the misplayed ball and pushed it into the left hand corner to tie the game. The rest of the half was a very competitive one with both teams having chances to score. It looked like the game would end in a tie before two minutes of stoppage time were added. The first-place Wildcats (9-0-1) made one final cross that found an open Los Gatos player, who headed it into the upper right corner and the whistle sounded one minute later.
Paly played a remarkable game against a much older Los Gatos team (14 seniors) and had a chance for an upset. The younger Paly team played well but did not have quite the offensive push in the final minutes. This game marked the final appearance of Paly seniors Cina Vazir, Neal Biswas and goalie Tony Maharaj.
(Menlo School and Palo Alto Athletics contributed)