After two ties between the Menlo School and Sacred Heart Prep girls soccer teams during the regular season, the Knights finally broke the deadlock when it counted most.
Top-seeded Menlo scored the first two goals and then held on for a 2-1 win over its neighborhood rival in the Central Coast Section Division II title game on a rainy Saturday afternoon at Valley Christian High in San Jose.
"It's an amazing feeling, like nothing else," said freshman center forward Alexa Thomases, who opened the scoring in the 15th minute and assisted on Zoe Enright's goal in the 53rd minute. "It was an incredible game and knowing how hard we worked the whole season, for it to come down to this one game makes it even better."
Stanford-bound senior Tierna Davidson scored on a penalty kick in the final minute for No. 7 Sacred Heart Prep (15-6-2), but that was the only shot that got past senior keeper Schuyler Tilney-Volk, who made 10 saves.
"I'm not playing college soccer and this is my probably my last big game so it means a lot, for sure," Tilney-Volk said.
The teams tied 3-3 and 2-2 during West Bay Athletic League (Foothill Division) competition this season, part of a three-month-long unbeaten streak for Menlo (14-2-6).
The defending CCS champion Gators almost got on the board first when Davidson found junior midfielder Cameron Gordon five yards from the goal, but Gordon's one-touch shot went high. Thirty seconds later, Thomases found the net on a chip shot from 15 yards out off an assist from sophomore Emily Demmon.
"It was great buildup play and what really allowed us to score that was our teamwork up top," Thomases said. "It was a great cross in and you know that against a great team like Sacred Heart, you have to take all your chances and make the best of everything."
"Thomases has been doing it all season, coming up with clutch goals," said coach Ross Ireland, who won in his first year at Menlo. "She's so composed and technical, and when all around her people are going nuts, she's still able to calm herself down and make the key pass or the finish."
Thomases did both on Saturday. After Demmon forced a turnover deep in Gators' territory, Thomases found Enright, who beat goalie Caitlin Perkocha 1-on-1 with a composed finish.
Davidson was only playing her second game since missing six weeks with an ankle injury suffered against Menlo, but she did her best to help SHP mount a comeback.
The senior had two headers in the 58th minute stopped by strong saves from Tilney-Volk before finally being taken down in the box at the end of the game and converting the penalty.
But, Menlo was disciplined and organized defensively, and this time made sure there wouldn't be another tie.
"Schuyler came up with some fantastic saves to change the game," Ireland said. "(Davidson) came on strong and we clawed our way to the finish line, and we got there."
The teams have now split their head-to-head meetings (5-5-9) since joining the WBAL in 2009, but Menlo has the one that counted most this time.
Like the San Francisco Giants, Menlo has now championships in three consecutive even years. The Knights won their first program title outright in 2012, and then tied SHP in the championship game in 2014.
"It really came down to our grit at the end and our perseverance," Thomases said. "In the end we just had so much determination and wouldn't let down."
In the Division I title match, the top-seeded Menlo-Atherton girls rallied from a 2-0 halftime deficit and posted a 3-2 triumph over No. 10-seeded Branham to capture the CCS title on a stormy Saturday night at Valley Christian High in San Jose. For the Bears (15-4-3), it was their first-ever section crown.
"Being down 2-0 at half, I just told the team we are OK, we will get the wind with us and that if we could keep the pressure on Branham with lots of shots things could go our way," said M-A coach Jason Luce. "We were behind in the last three playoff games, but it's not the ideal position. But, the team is a veteran group and are beautiful competitors. We always believed we could do it!"
Things looked bleak for M-A when Branham (13-8-3) took what seemed to be a commanding halftime lead in rainy, windy conditions. The Bears, however, battled back with senior Sarah McLeod scoring off an assist from junior Katie Guenin to trim the deficit to 2-1 before adding a second goal in the 74th minute on a free kick to deadlock the match. With time running out, M-A' sophomore Josephine Cotto took a pass from Guenin and launched a hard shot into the top left corner for the game-winning goal.
"We are a proud group, that are resilient! Not a bad description for a team," said Luce.
The Bears received solid defense from juniors Ali Sivilotti,, Kasey Love, and Allison Galbraith. The entire team turned things around in the second half. Midfielders Alissa McNerney, McLeod, Nicole Salz and Margaret Child played with passion and strength preventing the Bruins from converting any goals. Forwards Talia Missan and Mara Cavallaro consistent pressure really proved to be critical in the last remaining minutes of the game. Sophomore keeper Breanna Sandoval's quick moves proved critical to the M-A effort.
"Great season for us, our best team in M-A's history of girls soccer," said Luce. "So, we have met, and exceeded, our expectations, which was to represent M-A in a way to be proud!"
Top-seeded Palo Alto earned its first CCS title since 2011 with a 59-44 victory over No. 3-seeded North Salinas in the Division I championship game Saturday at Kaiser-Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz.
Sophomore Carly Leong nailed four 3-points and finished with 17 points for Paly while senior post Alexis Harris, headed for San Jose State in the fall, had 14 points, 17 rebounds and seven blocks.
"We had to stop their point guard, Jordan Enos," said Paly coach Scott Peters. "She was their heart and soul. We pressed her with two players in the first half to try to tire her out. Second half we went to a trapping half court zone, which really frustrated them. it looked like Enos was tired in the second half."
Paly held Enos to 14 points and forced North Salinas into 24 turnovers, but still found it difficult to pull away. The Vikings held a 29-27 halftime lead, but moved ahead to 48-39 entering the final quarter.
"We turned the ball over too many times in the first half," Peters said. "In the second half, we played under control on offense and we got great shots. Even when we missed, either Alexis or Coco (Lovely) got the rebound."
Paly also connected on nine 3-pointers while avenging a loss to North Salinas in the semifinals two years ago.
"Many of our outside shots were open because they were concerned about Alexis down low and collapsed their defense to make it harder for her to score," Peters said. "Alexis played strong and, besides blocking seven shots, she changed a couple of others."
In addition to Harris, Peters praised his other two seniors -- Maddy Atwater and Lovely.
"The three seniors played with great poise and I could not take them off the floor for very long in the second half," said Peters.
The Vikings improved to 19-7 and earned a No. 6 seed and a home game (at Gunn) for Wednesday's first round of the CI NorCal playoffs against No. 11 Dublin at 7 p.m.
Also in Santa Cruz, No. 2-seeded Sacred Heart Prep held off No. 1 Scotts Valley, 52-51, to win the CCS Division IV basketball title at Kaiser-Permanente Arena. The title was the first for the Gators (20-6) since 2002. SHP held a slim 39-38 lead after three quarters and held off the Falcons (23-5) down the stretch.
Sophomore Tatum Angotti tallied a season-high 20 points and senior Ma'ata Makoni added 12 rebounds and 14 points for the Gators, including a free throw with 23 seconds to provide the margin of victory. That came after she had missed the previous two after being fouled on a 3-point attempt.
Angotti sealed the triumph with a huge block with just four seconds remaining. SHP senior Riley Hemm, who finished with nine points, hit a 3-pointer to give the Gators a 51-48 lead after tying the game at 48 with a layin.
Both teams advance to this week's CIF NorCal state playoffs, with the Gators receiving a No. 4 seed and home game in the second round on Saturday night (6 p.m.) against the winner of Arcata and Central Valley.