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ROHNERT PARK — Sometimes timing is everything.

The Maria Carrillo Pumas lost to the Livermore Cowboys 2-0 on Dec. 9. It was their first loss of the season and almost from the final whistle, Pumas coach Debra LaPrath wanted it back.

Saturday night, she got it. And the result was entirely different.

The No. 2-seeded Pumas beat No. 5 seed Livermore 1-0 to claim the North Coast Section Division 2 championship at Rancho Cotate High in Rohnert Park.

The title, in this first season after all North Bay and Sonoma County league teams moved to winter, is the Pumas’ eighth in school history, including a run of five in a row from 2011-15 when area girls played in the fall and the Pumas were in Division 1.

“It means so much,” LaPrath said. “You don’t want to look back at last year, but we had that early exit and these guys, (they) felt like they fell short.”

The Pumas were dispatched from the postseason last year in a quarterfinal loss to Windsor. Apparently, it’s stung ever since.

“It feels so good to win,” senior Megan Sullivan said. “It was redemption for us.”

The win was the only thing feeling good for Sullivan, who was racked with an illness and still managed to play 80 minutes of phenomenal soccer Saturday night.

Sullivan was tasked with marking Livermore’s senior striker, Lexi Romero, a lightning-fast and incredibly dangerous player. Sullivan gave her nothing.

Romero “is deadly,” LaPrath said. “Megan knew that mark was her job tonight.”

“We knew we had to shut her down,” Sullivan said. “I knew I couldn’t let her have the ball, so fighting for every single 50-50 was one of my goals for this game. Putting it all out there and getting stuck in. I knew I couldn’t let her score. I’m so happy we got a shutout.”

The only goal of the game came five minutes into the second half when junior Teagan Coleman sent a driving cross from the left corner on the ground at the near post.

Senior Kitana Gonzalez timed her run perfectly to beat her defender and just get a piece of it to put it in the back of the net near post.

It wasn’t the finish — it was the run that was a thing of beauty.

“I knew I had to run near post because I knew she was going to get it right there,” Gonzalez said. “It was a hard cross and I just had to touch it.”

Gonzalez, who has 27 goals on the season, said she felt compelled to make up for a missed opportunity just prior to the goal. But it was Gonzalez who put pressure on the Cowboys’ back line all night.

She had a prime chance to score late in the first half when sophomore Brynn Howard was taken down near the top of the box and the ball popped to Gonzalez’s feet. but she could not get enough on her left-footed shot to get it past Livermore’s senior goalkeeper, Jennifer Kovisto.

The Pumas had their chances, but the Cowboys certainly did not lie down.

Livermore junior Kamryn Farro was dangerous all night. Her throw-ins were weapons in and of themselves — so long that they looked like free kicks whenever she took them.

In one stretch in the second half, the Cowboys’ attack forced the Vikings’ sophomore goalkeeper, Taylor Little, to punch out two balls in a row. It was during this stretch that another defensive stalwart for the Pumas, senior Candace Hillegas, went down hard and came up limping.

She was pulled from the game, but the Cowboys’ attack continued, so LaPrath put her back in just after a nifty shot by Romero with the outside of her right foot sailed just over the crossbar. She’d seen enough.

Then, with 13 minutes to play, Little made a terrific dive to her left to push another of Farro’s shots wide.

“They were peppering us in the last 15 minutes,” LaPrath said.

To combat the Cowboys’ speed, LaPrath moved Gonzalez to defense to help keep watch over Romero and Farro in the final minutes of the game.

“They were a very, very good team, but that’s what we prepped for the whole entire season,” Hillegas said. “One of the most important things was the mental game, not even the physical. It’s late in the season, we’re all tired, so the mental game is a really, really important part.”

So coming in against a team that beat you early in the season was a bit of a psychological challenge. Especially after the seeding committee gave the Pumas the two seed and the Cowboys’ the three, despite that earlier result. There might have been a little extra fight in the Cowboys because of that.

But the Pumas held on and hung in. And LaPrath had a lot of praise for the Cowboys’ style of play and coach Chad Harper.

But she said her kids were playing for not only this season, but perhaps last year and that bitter finish.

“They say the harder you want it the harder it is to surrender,” she said.

“It means a lot because we didn’t win last year and it was really hard on us not even getting to the semifinals,” Gonzalez said, fingering the medal around her neck. “And I lost all my medals in the fire, so now I have a new one.”

Gonzalez lost her home in the deadly wildfires in October.

It’s been a tough year for the Pumas in many ways. The fires closed school for three weeks in October, so they have played every single game on the road as their home field is being refurbished.

They lost senior leader Brianna Van Giesen to a torn ACL in the first game against Livermore. Senior Aliyah Shields re-injured her knee in the Pumas’ second-round game against Northgate Feb. 17.

But LaPrath said the Pumas have battled through it all — the injuries and illnesses, the lineup shuffles and tweaks. And the early exit last season reminded them all season long of how they did not want it to end.

And now the Pumas move on. By making the Division 2 title game, the Pumas will automatically advance to the NorCal regional tournament in the first week of March. They won’t know where they are seeded for another week.

I asked LaPrath if it would be hard to have her team on ice for a week.

Nope. They are beat up; they need a break. Sullivan is so ill she can barely breathe. So a week of recuperation, rest and plotting for this area’s first experience with the NorCal regional tournament is how the Pumas will spend the next week.

For once, time is on their side. And timing is everything.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 and at Kerry.benefield@pressemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and Instagram @kerry.benefield.

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