RIPON — Ripon High’s girls soccer team got to play on its own campus for the first-time ever Thursday, but the sight from under the lights of Stouffer Field never seemed so unfamiliar as it did on this night.
The Indians had trouble keeping up with the pace forced by the faster visitors from Hilmar and the short grass, as they suffered their first Trans-Valley League loss, 3-0. Ripon (4-1-1, 7-3-1 overall) had been hosting games at Mistlin Park and Park View Elementary in recent years.
“We’ve only had one practice on this field,” said Tia Sidtikun, Ripon’s center midfielder who is bound for Cal State Monterey Bay. “Personally, I’m used to the thicker grass at Mistlin. We’re just not used to playing a faster pace on a field like this.”
She didn’t harp on excuses, however, giving credit to the opportunistic and organized Hilmar side. Oliviah Gemperle scored in the 10th and 73rd minutes, and Jaimee Rocha converted a penalty kick in the 23rd minute after a Ripon defender was called for a handball inside the 18-yard line.
“They capitalized on our mistakes and they were better technically than we were,” Sidtikun said.
Ripon coach Jose Bobadilla agreed.
“They were better than us tonight,” he said. “We couldn’t get anything going. We knew there would be issues because of how the ball runs differently on this field, but it’s like that for both teams. Hilmar handled it better than we did.”
The defeat drops Ripon to third place at the midway point of the conference season and its first since Feb. 26. Hilmar (5-1, 10-3-2) moves to a first-place tie with Escalon, which stunned the Yellowjackets 3-0 last week.
“This was huge, especially after last week,” Hilmar coach Louie Bettencourt said. “(The loss to Escalon) was a wake-up call for us. We outshot them 12-3, and they beat us 3-0 and scored every goal on set pieces. I thought they had to come in here and prove something to themselves and the girls stepped up.”
The difference on Thursday was that Hilmar made good on its few opportunities while Ripon almost always seemed a touch off from cashing in on its chances. Both teams took just six shots, but five were on frame for Hilmar against Ripon’s two.
Gemperle gave Hilmar the early momentum boost by stripping a Ripon defender of the ball and taking it the other way for a one-girl breakaway for the goal. The Indians had a shot to tie it three minutes later when Maci Christian crossed it to Sidtikun from the right side, but the half-volley attempt sailed wide right.
Then in the 23rd minute, two players battled for the ball in the air while in the penalty area on a throw-in. A hand inadvertently went up and knocked it down.
Ripon climbed back from a two-goal deficit to beat Orestimba 5-2 in its last match, and at the start of the second half it appeared ready to make a similar run. Jessica Carmona had an open look from near the left post when Sidtikun delivered a perfect cross on what was Ripon’s best possession of the game, but the ball skipped past Carmona.
“We played well for about the first 20 minutes of the second half, but then we went back to kick and run and it didn’t work for us at all,” Bobadilla said. “Our passing game wasn’t there at all tonight.”
It was for Hilmar, which had several opportunities stuffed by goalie Yvette Serrano in the second half. The last of her three saves, though, led to Hilmar’s insurance goal. She batted the ball out of bounds on a well-placed, long-distance shot from Victoria Whitford. Moments later, Gemperle deflected in the corner-kick cross from, Janessa Mitchell.
“We were a little fortunate tonight because it was an evenly-played game,” Bettencourt said. “The score doesn’t show it but it was a well-played game by both teams. We just had to settle things down and start possessing the ball better in the end.”