After a wild match that had yellow cards, a red card, a last-second goal, overtime and penalty kicks, anyone who let the Tuesday afternoon chill chase them from Santa Rosa Junior College’s frigid soccer bleachers before the final whistle will be sorry. Very sorry.
It was a heart stopper.
And a heart breaker — if you came with the Evergreen Valley College Hawks.
In the second match of a CCCAA NorCal postseason doubleheader hosted by Santa Rosa, the undefeated women’s squad found some way to pull out a win against the visiting Hawks despite playing a man down for more than 50 minutes of playoff-pace soccer.
Ranked No. 1 in the NorCal bracket, the Bear Cubs were down 2-1 in the second half of the 30-minute overtime and 30 seconds from season-ending defeat when a corner kick found its way to Holle Depina. The sophomore captain struck home a goal that pulled her team from the very precipice of having the next few months off.
“I knew this was the moment, all or nothing. And I knew I just had to put my body on the line for my team,” she said.
Goal. Whistle. Penalty kicks.
From there, a close game was no longer close. Evergreen, likely stunned that the Bear Cubs, who played down a man since the 69th minute after freshman Amanda Galbraith was sent off for her second yellow card, missed their first two penalties and Bear Cubs goalkeeper Ali Miller saved the Hawks’ third attempt.
There’s no digging out of that hole.
“We’ve been working on them all week long,” first-year coach Crystal Howard said of her Big 8 Conference Bear Cubs and penalty kicks.
Howard said she didn’t have to counsel her players much going into overtime. This team wants to win, she said.
“I just said, ‘Leave your heart on the field,’ and they did it,” she said. “They fight for each other, they fight for the program.”
It was a fight. In a match that had its moments of chippy tension, the Bear Cubs kept fighting.
They were on the board first, with a header goal from freshman Sophia Maso after a skilled run down the left side by Galbraith, who sent a left-footed cross seemingly destined for Maso who had a clear height advantage over the Evergreen defenders.
But the Hawks answered back in the 11th minute and from there it was a grind.
But two minutes into overtime, the Hawks found the net again and then tried to settle into a defensive set-up to stymie the Bear Cubs.
But Howard, who was voted co-Big 8 Coach of the Year, moved central defender and Big 8 Conference Defensive Player of the Year, sophomore Liz Duport, to an attacking role in overtime.
It worked. In the waning moments of the game, the corner kick was won and with Depina’s last-second goal, the Bear Cubs earned a chance to take the win in penalties.
“This is the best feeling I’ve had this whole entire season and I’m just on cloud nine right now,” Depina said.
The Bear Cubs play in the NorCal final at home against fourth seed Modesto at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Unfortunately, the Bear Cubs’ men’s team will likely be there to watch.