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Gebhardt Cup eludes Timberwolves
Sierra’s Stephaine Vanni controls the ball in front of a Turlock defender during the championship game of the 5th Annual Vern Gebhardt Champions Cup at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium as Sierra faced Turlock High. - photo by HIME ROMERO
Everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong for Sierra High during a four-minute, tournament-costing portion of its 3-2 Vern Gebhardt Champions Cup loss to the Turlock Bulldogs Saturday in Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium

Sierra (4-4) seemingly had their Gebhardt championship title defense well in hand when standout midfielder Stephanie Vanni made good on a penalty kick opportunity with 16 minutes remaining in the contest. Vanni’s goal sparked a Bulldog squad that had no interest in heading south without the championship trophy.

The Bulldogs would score two goals in less than two minutes to tie the score at 2-2, then forced Sierra into come-from-behind mode, notching the go-ahead score a minute-and-a-half later with just over eight minutes to play.

“Once we got that second goal I think we kind of relaxed a little bit,” Sierra head coach Manual Pires said. “And then they came back, scored that goal and got a surge of energy.

“That was a very good team that you can never let up against.”

The Timberwolves scrambled for more chances to tie the game, but saw things slip away for good when Vanni took a free kick just outside the box, missing the ultimate score when her shot struck the center of the crossbar.

After dominating Turlock for the entire first half, Sierra’s 2-0 lead with just over 10 minutes remaining could not have appeared any safer.

“I honestly thought that we had it in the bag,” Vanni said after the loss. “But you cannot give up. No matter how many minutes are left in the game, you just have to keep playing.

“Hopefully something like that will never happen to us again.”

As disheartening as the loss was for the Buffaloes, the comeback miracle from the Bulldogs will definitely provide the club with some momentum heading into their Central California Conference schedule.

“We were having trouble getting control of the game, and most 50-50 balls were bouncing their way,” Turlock head coach Dennis Bishop said. “To their credit, they were hustling after everything. We had to make some adjustments because of an injury, I pushed (Alissa Dahl) up front, and she’s quite a playmaker.

“After this win, we feel really great going into our league season.”

Sierra cruised to the title game by handling Golden Valley with ease 4-0. Vanni, who was the tournament’s leading goal scorer with six goals, netted three goals against Golden Valley and Joanna Ortiz scored the other. Goalie Moriah Fallon was honored for giving up the least amount of goals during the tournament, going into the championship without surrendering a goal.

Ortiz gave Sierra its lead in the championship game, gathering a pass in the box and rifling a shot past the Turlock keeper for the 1-0 lead.

Sierra will have to put the disheartening loss behind them in a hurry, opening up Valley Oak League action Tuesday at Central Valley.

“Of course we will be able to put this loss behind us,” Vanni said of the preseason finale. “We are a good team and we learn from our mistakes.

“Now we won’t let that happen to us again.”

Turlock 1, Sierra 0
The Timberwolves (4-2-2) came close, but could not close out the Gebhardt tournament with a championship, falling to the Bulldogs Saturday.

Sierra made it to the title game by beating Johansen (2-1) and Delta-Charter of Tracy (9-0) Friday. The Timberwolves earned a semifinal win over Pitman 1-0 behind a goal from Asia Cortez. Lindsay Williams netted a pair of goals in the win over Johansen, and Shanice Young was the hero against Delta, finishing with a hat-trick.

“I was very pleased with our tournament performance,” Sierra head coach Joe Pires said. “I have quite a few players with nagging injuries, so I was pleased with our results, but of course, I wanted to win the tournament.”

The Timberwolves will try to get back on track when they travel to Ceres to open VOL play.