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Pelon goal clinches Ripons finals berth
After win at Corning, Indians will host NorCal title match Saturday
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CORNING — Ripon was a long way from home for its CIF Northern California Division IV Championships semifinal on Thursday.

The third-seeded Indians won’t have to travel for the rest of the season after Aubree Pelon’s late header goal gave them the edge for a 3-2 victory at No. 2 Corning. 

They are not making another trip to the North State thanks to No. 4 Lowell’s 2-1 upset of top-seeded University Prep (24-3) of Redding in the other semifinal. San Francisco-based Lowell (18-3) will visit Ripon’s Stouffer Field — where the Indians (18-4-2) are 8-1-1 this season — for the first-ever NorCal Division IV title match Saturday night starting at 6.

“They’re ecstatic,” second-year Ripon coach Nichole Meyer said of her team. “It’s a really great feeling to be recognized by the community, everyone has been real supportive of the girls. They are appreciative to still have something to strive for.”

Corning (17-6-2), the North Section’s Division II champion, battled back from a 2-0 halftime deficit by converting on its only attempts of the second half.

Ripon freshman Ariana Scholten tallied her team-highs 17th goal and 17th assist in the contest. She opened scoring in the sixth minute with a powerful turn-and-strike goal from the top of the penalty box with multiple defenders on her back. 

Then in the 20th, Devaney Dougherty found the net for a third straight playoff match after a controlling a lobbed pass from Megan Johnson. The Indians held a 7-6 shot advantage at halftime but had the better looks and more possession.

“We played a good possession game and took advantage of some of their weaknesses right away,” Meyer said. “But in the second half we got a little flat on our feet in the first 10-15 minutes. They came back on us and it turned into the most physical game we’ve played all season.”

It took 18 seconds for the Cardinals to cut the deficit. Nicole Curiel threatened to score on a breakaway and collided with Ripon goalie Ashley Pugh (six saves), and Itzel Ramirez was there to collect the loose ball and bury the open-net shot.

The equalizer came in the 50th minute after Megan Ross’ corner-kick cross.

Then Scholten and the Indians worked their late-game magic once again. 

Scholten set up the deciding goal in the 68th minute with her seventh and eighth corner kicks of the match. She nearly scored on No. 7 with a left-footed bender from the right corner that was knocked over the goal by Corning keeper Aide Solorio. Scholten teed it up again from the other side, and this time Solorio batted it high right to Pelon toward the near post for the uncontested header.

“That was a wonderful finish by Aubree,” Meyer said. “Then it was just a matter of holding them at the corners and keeping the lead.”

Cindy Alvarez played a key role in helping Ripon gain the lead early and keep it late. The versatile fourth-year senior, who played at defensive midfielder for most of the postseason, started the NorCal semifinal on the attacking third and was able to manufacture scoring opportunities. After Pelon’s go-ahead goal, Alvarez was relocated to the defense.

“Even though she didn’t score, putting Cindy Alvarez up top put a lot of pressure on them and she was contributing to the offense,” Meyer said. “She’s an extremely important part of our team. There are certain games we’ve literally played her at all three positions — up top, the midfield and in the back. Anytime we have a strong opponent we can put her wherever we need her. She’s a four-year varsity player for a reason.”

Ripon ended up outshooting the Cardinals, 17-8. Freshman Kailey Tirejo and sophomore Deanna Sandoval were the Indians’ defensive standouts.