In a game of lost opportunities for Manteca, the visiting Dons of Acalanes made the most of theirs Tuesday in the Nos. 4-5 matchup of the CIF State Division III Northern California Regional Championships.
The Buffaloes were on the front foot for much of the first half and early in the second, but timely goals from Emily Keeler slowed their roll while sending Acalanes into the semifinal round with a 2-0 victory.
“It’s tough,” Manteca coach Justin Coenenberg said. “We’re a better second-half team, but we jumped out on them early. We were playing hard, we were creating opportunities and we were pretty happy with the way things were going.
“We’ve only been shut out one time all season long, so we felt like we didn’t need to change too many things.”
Although the two sides were even on shot attempts at eight apiece, the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III champion Buffs (21-3-4) had the cleaner looks along with other chances in which they were a touch away from what would be a sure goal.
The tone was set in the opening minute when senior forward Kaley Miller, who had been on a tear in the postseason, sneaked behind the defense on a free kick from midfield and delivered a short cross from near the left post. Her pass just missed striker Esmeralda Ochoa, and Mia Watson followed up with a hesitant strike to Dons keeper Kate Carter (four saves).
Manteca then failed to capitalize on two 1-v-1 breakaways and a direct kick that skipped off the crossbar all inside the first 25 minutes.
“We weren’t panicking and I really felt a goal would come so we just tried to stay patient and positive, unfortunately it didn’t come,” Coenenberg said.
It did for the Dons (18-5-3) from Lafayette, whose attempts were mainly long-range bombs until Keeler was presented with a lay-up in the 37th minute. The junior winger beat a pair of Manteca defenders on a counter-attack and slid her left-to-right attempt past Manteca netminder Aimee Meier (two saves) for the first tally.
Before doubling the lead, she tracked back on defense to make sure the Dons retained the advantage early in the second half. Miller received a through ball and jolted into the penalty box with Acalanes’ keeper out of position. Manteca’s veteran goal scorer was unable to get a shot off, however, as Keeler knocked the ball past the end line with a slide tackle.
Then in the 52nd minute, Keeler landed the finishing blow. She again blew past the Buffaloes defense on a misplayed through ball and slammed it into the net on the first touch.
“She’s been a key contributor for us all season,” Acalanes coach Nick Barbarino said. “I believe she’s third on the team in goals and she’s been really solid on the right side. She did a really good job of lifting us up.
“We played a 100-minute game and 14 rounds of (penalty kicks) on Saturday so we were tired. She really stepped up and delivered for us.”
His Dons upset Ross powerhouse Branson in the North Coast Section Division III final, and they were in full control in the second half of Tuesday’s NorCal opener after Keeler’s second goal.
That allowed the Acalanes defense to sag and keep Manteca’s electric scoring tandem of freshman Cameron Silva and Miller in front of it. The over-the-top through balls that got through in the first half were cut off in the second half by center backs Aliye Wingate and Sami Hansen, two of the tallest players on the field.
Manteca did manage to generate more chances late, but the late-game spirit from past playoff triumphs was no longer there.
“The second goal made it tough, obviously, and then they sat back and defended,” Coenenberg said. “We changed things, put an extra forward up top, and we were able to create a little bit more we just couldn’t get it done.
“It’s frustrating because it’s not like we’re walking off this field thinking we can’t ever beat that team.”
Adding to the disappointment is the fact that Manteca missed an opportunity to host another game — top-seeded Mountain View was stunned by No. 8 Burlingame, 1-0. Burlingame travels to Acalanes on Thursday.
“We return a lot and have a lot to look forward to, but when you get these opportunities you want to take advantage of them because you don’t know when they’re going to come again,” Coenenberg said.