There’s been a big guessing game over the last couple of years at Mission Oak High School on which athletic program would win the school’s first Central Section championship.
The school’s top suspects for that initial Valley championship have been boys basketball, softball, football, baseball and boys soccer.
The Hawks’ girls soccer program has been off the radar in that discussion — until now.
Mission Oak is two wins away from a Central Section Division IV girls soccer championship.
The No. 2 Hawks topped No. 7 Kingsburg 4-2 in overtime in a Division IV quarterfinal match Thursday at Mission Oak High School.
“We have a great opportunity in front of us,” Mission Oak coach John Pimentel said. “We’ve talked about winning [the Division IV title] all season. It’s always been our No. 1 goal, and we’re getting closer.”
Fueling Mission Oak’s playoff drive was a spectacular game from Liz Cui on Wednesday. Cui scored the Hawks’ first three goals, and one of them was good enough to be a highlight on ESPN’s Sportcenter.
In the 65th minute with Kingsburg up 2-1, Cui wiggled her way past a couple of Kingsburg defenders, and the naturally right-footed kicker laced a laser left-footed shot from 12 yards out that the Kingsburg goalie had no chance of stopping.
In the 84th minute, Cui got free down the right sideline, and drilled a low line drive toward the bottom right-hand corner of the north goal. The ball squeezed in the small window between the Kingsburg goalie and the bottom of the right post that wasn’t much bigger than the ball itself, to put the Hawks up for the first time at 3-2.
“Like I told [Cui] before the game, she had to come up with a big game for us. She’s been our main scoring threat all season, and our offense goes through her. She needed a big game, and she had one. She was great,” Pimentel said.
But there would not have an opportunity for Cui to pull off her game-winning heroics if it wasn’t for the heroics turned in by Hawks goalkeeper Khristall Pimentel at the end of regulation.
With the score tied 2-2 in extra time, Mission Oak was called for a hands violation in the penalty box. If Kingsburg would convert the ensuing penalty kick, it would have denied the Hawks a spot in the semifinals.
The delivery from Kingsburg was on target toward the same bottom-right corner where Cui would score the eventual game-winner. But Pimentel kept the line drive from the back of net, and less than a minute after Pimentel secured the carom off her hands, the whistle blew to end regulation.
“That was a big save,” Pimentel said of his goddaughter’s play. “She has been doing that for us all season. Great job on that penalty kick by Khristall.”
Tracy Arevalos added an insurance goal for the Hawks in the 92nd minute.
And to think Kingsburg started the match by scoring a goal in the first minute.
“That’s one thing that’s hurt us all year. There have been quite a few games where we allow a goal in the first five minutes, and [Wednesday] it was in the first minute. The girls fought back. Something they’ve done all season, too,” Pimentel said. “Division IV is theirs if they can continue to play like this.”
Mission Oak (13-7-3) will host the winner of the No. 11 Exeter-No. 14 Fresno quarterfinal on Tuesday. That semifinal match will start at 6:30 p.m. at Mission Oak.
No. 9 Tulare Western 1, No. 1 Frontier 0: Stacie Mattos scored the game’s only goal on a free kick from 30 yards out in the 25th minute to give the Mustangs an upset win over the top seeded Titans during the Central Section Division II quarterfinals in Bakersfield.
Just don’t say it that way to Tulare Western head coach Osama Hamid.
“We like to think to think of it as a win, not an upset,” Hamid said.
He went on to praise the defensive effort given by the four girls on the back line, calling them “en fuego” and “lights out.”
“Going on the road and playing the No. 1 seed after bye is big boost for us,” Hamid said. “They believed and they proved it tonight.”
Tulare Western (18-5-2, 8-2) advances to the semifinals, where it will travel to face No. 5 seeded Sanger. The Mustangs played the Apaches twice during the regular season, losing 1-0 on Dec. 15, 2012 in the Garces tournament and tying 0-0 on Jan. 3 in Tulare.
“Very disciplined. Very aggressive,” Hamid said of his team’s semifinal opponent. “It will be a good challenge for us.”
No. 2 Bullard 3, No. 7 Tulare Union 1: The Knights ended the Redskins’ season with a win in the Central Section Division I quarterfinals in Fresno.
Tulare Union finished with an overall record of 18-7-4 after winning its eight consecutive East Yosemite League title with a 9-0-1 record in EYL play.