The Menlo-Atherton girls kept their championship hopes alive in the Central Coast Section Division I soccer playoffs with a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over visiting Piedmont Hills in a quarterfinal match Saturday in Atherton.
The No. 1 seeded Bears improved to 14-4-2 while the eighth-seeded Pirates dropped to 8-7-7. Menlo-Atherton has now won six games in a row and have outscored opponents, 24-1, in the streak.
"Little bit of a survival feeling," said M-A head coach Jason Luce. "Any time you play these games the team are engaged, emotional and physical. This one was super physical, but we expected that. It's nice to see the girls be brave and stick up to that."
With 10 minutes left in the second half, Piedmont Hills committed a critical penalty. Menlo-Atherton sent senior Sarah McLeod to take the penalty kick. She nailed the shot to carry the Bears into the semifinals.
"Tough to win on the PK, but it was called and I think it was so we'll take it," said Luce.
In the first half with the clock at 12:20, Piedmont Hill's Alissia Martin received the bounce off of the M-A goalie and scored putting the Pirates up 1-0.
The Bears responded with a set kick from the corner from freshman Yara Gomez, who was playing in only her third varsity match. She found McLeod in front of the goal and the senior banged it home for a 1-1 halftime tie.
"I saw the space so I sort of inched in," said Mcleod, who scored both goals for M-A. "She saw it also, so she had a great ball in the middle."
In the second half, Piedmont Hills had a chance to take the lead when sophomore Kayla Souto booted it just over the crossbar and the game remained tied at 1.
The Bears also put up a stout defense in the second half with Nicole Salz, Grace Brieger, Alissa McNerney, and Kate Guenin leading the way.
"It was very stressful," said McLeod. "It felt really good to make because it felt like we deserved the win and it was good to finally get ahead for the first time."
The Bears now advance to Wednesday's semifinals against No. 12 St. Ignatius (12-6-4), who took down fourth-seeded Valley Christian on Saturday. M-A will face SI at Burlingame High at 4:30 p.m.
"They are a huge challenge like any of the teams now," said Luce. "The four that are left are all decent and good so I'm expecting a better game. We're going to have to play much better, this wasn't our finest game by far. In the playoffs, survive and move on, we'll take it."
In CCS Open Division quarterfinal action, Palo Alto saw its sensational season come to an end in penalty kicks after the No. 7-seeded Vikings (16-1-2) and No. 2 Mitty (13-2-6) battled to a scoreless deadlock in regulation and overtime. After two extra periods, the Monarchs won on penalty kicks, 4-3, to advance to the semifinals on Wednesday.
Jacey Pederson, Emily Tomz, and Natalie Maloney made PKs for Palo Alto, which came up just short of ending the Monarchs' run of four CCS titles in the past five seasons.
"The girls played exceptionally well, going toe-to-toe with the WCAL power and we outplayed them for most parts of the game," said Paly coach Kurt Devlin. "Very intense, hard-fought game with Paly neutralizing any attack Mitty could muster. In fact, Mitty had four shots on goal, their most-dangerous shot from 30 yards out the clanged off the crossbar."
Paly keeper Linnea Carlstrom had three comfortable saves from long range. Paly had 2-3 great half chances in the last 20 minutes of regulation with Tess Preising's effort trickling across the face of the goal and being swept away for a corner. Shortly thereafter, Talia Malchin's backlpost header hit the side net.
While Bella Bonomi and Alison Lu had their PK attempts blocked, Devlin praised their game-long efforts.
"Both had fantastic games," Devlin said. "Lu was arguably the best player on the field yesterday. Pederson could only use her right foot and, although she played well, she had chances to crack shots or pass with her left and was not able pull the trigger due to her injury to the left knee. That was a definite factor in the game.
In all, Paly showed why it was rated No. 1 in the section for parts of the season playing well individually and collectively against a very deep Mitty side.
"I couldn't be happier with the team's play and am sad for the girls as they deserve to move on in the tournament," said Devlin. "A great overall season."
In CCS Division II quarterfinal action, defending champion Sacred Heart Prep kept its hopes alive for a second straight title with a 2-0 victory over host and No. 2-seeded Soledad (18-3-1) on Saturday night.
The No. 7-seeded Gators (14-5-2) got the winning goal in the fourth minute from sophomore Mia Shenk off an assist from Cameron Gordon. Shenk provided an insurance goal in the 56th minute with Gordon assisting once again.
SHP advances to the semifinals on Wednesday against host Burlingame (15-4-3) at 7 p.m. The No. 3-seeded Panthers eliminated Crystal Springs, 6-0, and now has outscored its two postseason opponents by 9-0.
In Atherton, top-seeded Menlo School also kept its title hopes alive with a 3-1 quarterfinal victory over No. 9-seeded Scotts Valley (10-7-3). The Knights, who have won or shared section titles in 2014 and '12, next will face No. 5 Saratoga (11-4-5), a 4-0 winner over No. 4 Santa Cruz, in the semifinals on Wednesday.
Menlo took a 2-1 lead at the half after freshman Alexa Thomases took a feed from senior Zoe Enright for the first goal. Then, Enright put the Knights ahead on a solo goal. Emily Demmon netted the third goal for Menlo off an assist from fellow junior Eliza Crowder.
"It was an awesome team performance, " Menlo coach Ross Ireland said. "Eliza, Zoe and Daria (Sprague) were especially impressive."
Palo Alto saw its potentially historic season come to an end in a 3-2 double-overtime loss to visiting and No. 5-seeded Watsonville (14-2-5) in a CCS Open Division opener on Saturday. The No. 4-seeded Vikings came into the first-ever Open playoffs with a 15-0-4 record and a shot at registering the program's first unbeaten season since 1971.
Palo Alto, however fell behind by 2-1 at halftime after losing a player to a red card on a handball in the penalty box in the middle of the first half. The Vikings played a man down the second half, but tied the match at 2 to send it to overtime. Watsonville got the game-winner off a corner kick deflection in the final two minutes of the second OT
Paly played with just 10 men for most of the game (80 minutes) following the handball in the penalty box. Watsonville was awarded a PK and scored. Paly regrouped and played down a man for the next 60 minutes and then 20 minutes of OT.
The Vikings had several chances to tie the game in the second half and finally scored when Sidd Srinivasan was taken down in the box. Neil Verwillow scored the penalty kick. The game went back and forth when Paly finally appeared to get the go-ahead goal with one minute left in regulation. Cole Tierney took on, and beat, a Watsonville defender and then shot the ball past the Watsonville keeper. However, the ref called the goal back and signaled the end of regulation a few moments later.
The OT period was pretty uneventful as both teams were looking a bit worn in a fast-paced contest. Paly played quite a game, playing with 10 men since the 20th minute.
"We fought hard to come back, we did not give up, and we played through a lot of adversity when things were not going our way," said Paly coach Don Briggs. "Eli Friedlander had a great game in the goal and center backs Reuben Kramer and Verwillow, with the help of midfielders Derek Schoenberger, Xander Sherer, Dami Bolarinwa and Tierney held back the Watsonville counterattacks.
An unusual four penalty kicks were called during the game. Watsonville was awarded three during regulation time (one scored, one blocked by Friedlander and the other blocked by Michel-Ange Siaba) and Palo Alto was awarded one (scored by Verwillow).
In the Division II quarterfinals, Menlo School followed its opening victory over No. 1 Pajaro Valley with a dramatic win over host South San Francisco on penalty kicks Saturday.
The 16th-seeded Knights improved to 13-4-3 and head to Wednesday's semifinals against No. 13 Prospect (17-4-1) at Westmont High at 4:30 p.m. Prospect was a 2-1 winner over No. 5 St. Ignatius.
"I'm very proud of the boys, they fought until the very end," Menlo coach Marc Kerrest said. "Second game in a row they were down and could have packed it in but kept believing and fighting."
Menlo and South City (11-5-5) remained in a 0-0 tie then each team scored in the waning minutes with the Knights netting a goal with no time left. It appeared junior Daniel Hausen had the initial shot that hit the crossbar and bounced down, then senior Philip Hausen tapped home the rebound.
The game went to penalty kicks. Junior keeper Nolan Peterson was clutch, saving the first two penalty kicks before getting a hand on the fourth and a save on the fifth. Philip Hausen scored the first penalty kick, then Daniel the second, and Matt Joss the fourth.
In the Open Division, host Menlo-Aherton couldn't make its No. 3 seed stand up and dropped a 5-1 quarterfinal decision to No. 6 Homestead. The PAL Bay Division champion Bears finished 14-4-3. Homestead (12-2-7), which finished second to Palo Alto in the SCVAL De Anza Division, next will play No. 7 Mitty, a 2-1 winner over No. 2 Alisal. Top-seeded Bellarmine (15-1-5) also won, 2-1.
Menlo School Athletics and Keith Peters contributed