RIPON — Ripon dispatched an all-too familiar foe in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V final last week and was rewarded with a brand-new experience.
The third-seeded Indians opened the inaugural CIF Northern California Division IV Regional Championships on Tuesday with a one-sided 3-0 win over No. 6 Golden Sierra at Stouffer Field. Although the Grizzlies (18-9-1) of Garden Valley are also from the SJS, capturing the Division VII title, these are two teams that have not faced off in recent memory. Ripon (17-4-2) toppled Trans-Valley League rival Hilmar for its third section banner and a first-round home game for NorCals.
Golden Sierra made the two-hour trip from El Dorado County, and now it’s Ripon’s turn to travel as No. 2 Corning (17-5-2) — about 180 miles from home — awaits on Thursday after defeating fellow North Section member Winters, 1-0. The semifinal is scheduled to start at 4.
“We’re new to this,” second-year Ripon coach Nichole Meyer said of the NorCal appearance. “But I think it was less nerve-wracking because we knew nothing about them, as opposed to the other teams we’ve taken time to strategize against. With this one we just kind of hoped our game would take over.”
And that it did, even if it took nearly a full half for the Indians to finally break the ice. Devaney Dougherty — she scored the lone goal in the 1-0 overtime win in Ripon’s section finale — punctuated a well-developed run started by Hailey Pugh along the right sideline. Pugh centered it to Aubree Pelon, who quickly turned and rolled it to the opposite post for the cutting Dougherty.
The shot was blown well beyond the reach of Golden Sierra keeper Sabrina Oulicky and bounced downward toward the goal line after tagging the crossbar, causing a delayed reaction for the Indians.
“I thought it hit the crossbar and came back out, so I looked at the ref real quick and said, ‘Did it go in?’” Dougherty said. “It was definitely a lot different than my last goal. It wasn’t as hyped up or in the last minute like that one, but I think it helped us settle down a little bit.”
The Indians certainly had their chances leading up to that point, outshooting Golden Sierra 16-6 in the first half. The freshman trifecta of Ariana Scholten, Dougherty and Pugh created several outstanding opportunities from striking range along with Pelon and defensive midfielder Cindy Alvarez. Oulicky deserves much of the credit, coming up with seven saves in all.
Ripon was more dominant in the second half and finished with a 27-8 shot advantage (13-3 on goal). Scholten doubled the lead with a booming 30-yard free kick in the 69th minute, burying the high, curling shot into the upper-right corner. And in the 77th, following a deflection of a corner kick from Scholten, Megan Johnson slid a short left-to-right pass along the goal line for Kailey Tirejo to put it away.
“It was just a waiting game,” Meyer said. “We had full faith in these girls. They’re a creative and smart group of soccer players, and they will click when the time is ready.”
Ripon nearly had a disastrous start to the match. In the first minute, a defender played a negative ball back to freshman keeper Ashley Pugh (two saves), but Golden Sierra’s Colleen See intercepted it in front of the goal box but had her ensuing shot deflected out of bounds.
The Grizzlies had one other decent shot at scoring, but Laura Prine’s long-range direct kick caromed high off the crossbar.
“We had been very focused during the section playoffs, and sometimes your brain switches off a little bit,” Meyer said. “In the second half they switched it back on, found their composure and got the possession game going.”