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Who: No. 12 Ygnacio Valley at No. 1 Analy

What: North Coast Section Div. 3 girls soccer

Where: Analy High School

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

The Analy Tigers girls soccer team does new and unexpected oh so well.

What’s not new — and, perhaps for some, not unexpected — is the Tigers’ capture of the Sonoma County League title in the final season of that league’s existence. The Tigers claimed their fifth consecutive SCL banner with a 12-1-1 league record en route to a 17-2-3 record overall after two games of postseason play.

That dominance gave the Tigers the No. 1 seed in the Div. 3 North Coast Section tournament and their first legitimate crack at the section crown in, well, awhile. And coach Brittany Briones is not shy about telling her players that it may be their last crack at a section title in, well, awhile.

Analy is moving to the North Bay League in the fall and the girls soccer team has been slotted into the robust Oak Division, meaning those dominating records will be much harder to come by and this high postseason seed will be tougher to secure.

“This is it. You probably won’t be seeded No. 1 again soon,” Briones said she told her players. “This is your time to capitalize on that and you cannot take it lightly. If you don’t rise to the challenge, we are done — the season is over.”

But you can’t blame the Tigers for enjoying looking at their Div. 3 bracket and not seeing the likes of Div. 2 programs Casa Grande, Maria Carrillo and Montgomery in the mix. And that No. 1 seed also means getting to play games at home.

“It’s pretty awesome, but we don’t really let it affect us,” said senior Claire Brown.

Briones said the top seed is bittersweet. Yes, it’s nice to be acknowledged for their run through the regular season, and yes, it’s nice to play at home, but now they are the team with the largest target on their backs.

But the Tigers have already risen to a number of challenges this season — not the least of which has been a veritable game of musical chairs with their lineup. Injuries, illness and the vagaries of a monthslong winter season have had the Tigers fielding a variety of roster configurations, something that has slowed down of late but only in the last four games, according to Briones.

“We keep moving people around to see what we can get,” she said.

“I think our team does a really good job in dealing with all of the change,” junior Isabel Housman said.

Housman has been posted all over the field and so, too, has Brown. It might be a half up at forward and a half at outside marking back.

Their back line has been particularly hard hit.

“It’s probably the most inconsistent defense we have had,” Housman said.

But what is weird here is that it’s worked. Whoever the Tigers’ put in the back, even if it’s just for a half, has worked out. In spades.

The Tigers’ defense that has been tinkered and toyed with all season has given up just five goals in 22 games and has posted 18 shutouts.

“It’s awesome,” Brown said. “Our defense has been killing it this playoff run.”

Correction: The defense has been killing it all season long.

And both Brown and Housman say that extra credit goes to a first-year varsity player, sophomore goalkeeper Kaija Bazzano.

“She just crushes it. She makes all these crazy saves,” Housman said. “She’s tiny. She’s super athletic.”

Briones called Bazzano “a ninja in disguise.”

“She’ll make a save and then make another save while she’s falling down,” she said.

Housman described Bazzano as almost magical in a preseason game at Ukiah. Bazzano didn’t get the shutout — the teams tied 1-1 —but she saved the Tigers’ collective bacon a number of times, Housman said.

“It was like, oh my God, insane,” she said. “They were in front of the goal. She blocked it with her foot and her head. We all gave up and were like, ‘It’s a goal.’ Somehow Kaija comes up with a save and we are like, ‘We’ll take it.’”

“There is a lot of ‘What just happened?’ when she is in goal,” Housman said.

The Tigers have yet to be scored on in two playoff games. They easily dispatched No. 16 Encinal in the NCS opener Feb. 14 and then posted a 2-0 win against No. 8 El Cerrito in the quarterfinal game Saturday night.

But Wednesday brings a new element: A bona fide dragon slayer. The No. 12 Ygnacio Valley Warriors toppled No. 5 seed Terra Linda on the road, then did it again, knocking off No. 4 Drake at Drake. It should be noted that Drake easily handled Sonoma Valley, the 13th seed and a team that has pushed Analy to the limit twice this season.

Briones said she has spent a lot of time hammering on her players to overlook no one.

“It matters at the end of the day who wins,” Briones said. “They’ll ask, ‘Is the team we are playing good?’ It doesn’t matter when you get to the playoffs. All it takes is a loss and we’re done.”

Both Housman and Brown said the team is excited to play in the expanded section pool and to go up against teams they have never seen before.

“I like not having preconceived expectations of who their best player is and how we play against them. I like to play in the moment,” Housman said.

For Analy, for a lot of reasons, their moment is now.

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

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