Ripon has been up to the task so far competing in the larger Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV bracket.
The top-seeded Indians are now in position to claim a third straight section title and fifth overall despite the step-up in class, as they blanked No. 5 El Dorado 2-0 Tuesday at Stouffer Field while getting second-half goals from underclassmen Hailey Peterson and Ariana Daniels.
They’ll vie for their first Division IV banner on Saturday against No. 6 El Camino (9-5-5) at a site and time yet to be determined. With an enrollment of 1,363, El Camino is the largest school in Division IV and placed fourth in the highly-competitive Capital Athletic League.
“We didn’t know we’d be put into D4, we were a little shocked,” third-year junior center back Kailey Tijero said. “We knew we had the first seed and the home games. We just needed to play our game and see where it goes from there.”
Ripon (20-4-1), which has 300 less students than El Camino, are four-time champions in Division V, which consists of eight teams versus 16 for Division IV.
El Dorado (16-6) held its own against the Indians for a half and even had them on their heels for stretches with sisters Ava and Maddy Dufour creating chances.
Ripon finally broke through in the 63rd minute after Aubree Pelon’s long ball from midfield found Daniels dashing free into the penalty box. Daniels poked it past El Dorado keeper Haley Smith, but Ady Vanderputten was there to block it near the goal line.
Peterson, also known as “Peewee,” joined the scramble for the loose ball inside the goal box put it away.
“We definitely picked it up in the second half,” she said. “After halftime we were all pumped and ready to just finish it. We didn’t want this to go to (penalty kicks).
“I’m really happy with how everybody played and the effort everyone put into the second half.”
Daniels later made up for the missed opportunity with the insurance goal in the 76th minute thanks to the dynamic Devaney Dougherty, who beat a defender on the right wing and curled a perfect left-footed cross for the assist. Daniels was wide open on the 6-yard line for the volley.
The Daniels-Dougherty duo had good moments in the first half as well, but Ripon had a tougher time finding cracks in the Cougars’ defense in the early going.
“We discussed at the midway point of the game to start attacking the wings, and both goals came in through the wings,” Ripon coach Bryce Perkins said. “We felt that we had them pinned down on both the left and right side and we felt that we could get by them and it worked out in the end.”
Defense and goalkeeping also keyed the victory. The back line, anchored by Bianca Toledo and Tijero in the middle with Ellie Everhart and Deanna Sandoval on the flanks, has yet to give up a goal during this postseason run and was well tested by the Dufour sisters — Ava Dufour led El Dorado with 34 goals on the season, while Maddy scored 22 while assisting 19.
“We put Ellie Everhart on No. 21 (Maddy Dufour) and we really had to make sure we shut her out,” Tijero said. “Whenever she got the ball, we all slid toward her.
Goalkeeper Ashley Pugh did her part in keeping the sheet clean, coming up with four saves including a diving stop on an Ava Dufour strike in the final minutes. Pugh earlier thwarted Hayley Kull’s half-volley try following a corner kick, keeping the game scoreless.
“Ashley snagged four tremendous saves, and they were laser shots,” Perkins said. “Had she not grabbed those this game could have easily been tied (at the end of regulation). They have those sisters who can really swing the ball, and Ashley was equal to it.”