Playing with their backs against the wall is nothing new for the Buchanan girls soccer team, and when the moments arose in the biggest game of the year, the Bears clutched up big time.
After falling behind 1-0 in the first half at No. 1 Liberty-Bakersfield, the No. 2 Bears got an equalizer goal in the second and rode out overtime to defeat the Patriots 4-3 in penalty kicks to capture the D-I Central Section championship in dramatic fashion Tuesday night.
It was a return to glory for the storied Buchanan girls soccer program who added its 11th section title and 10th of the last 13 years.
“They [Liberty] had the lead for most of the game but we found a way to regroup and got the equalizer,” Buchanan head coach Tim Carroll said. “The game was our whole season built into one. Our entire year we’ve had to play with our backs against the wall.”
Buchanan (18-4-4) scored its goal in the second half after Alessia Anguiano was fouled and Erika Montano fired a free kick from about 25 yards out. Montano’s attempt hit the top bar and bounced straight down before Giselle Uribe swooped in and cleaned it up, tying the score 1-1.
After two 10-minute overtime periods and two five-minute golden goal periods, Taylor Phillips, Kiara Gaines, Anguiano and Montano would make their penalty kicks, setting up the play of the game.
Buchanan goalie Alexa Marchini, who coach Carroll calls “the best player in the Valley,” then stood tall and deflected the game-clincher just enough to bounce off the left post.
“My first thought going into PKs was ‘we got this,’” said Marchini, the Northern Arizona-bound senior who recorded 15 shutouts on the year. “PKs are all a mental battle. I had confidence in my team and knew they had confidence in me. I was just focusing on one kick at a time.”
Carroll mentioned that Marchini would have had another chance to be the hero – she was lined up to shoot the team’s fifth penalty kick.
Liberty (20-2-1) and Buchanan played to a 1-1 tie on Dec. 13 at Liberty.
The Valley title capped an emotional year that saw the Bears sitting at 0-1-3 to start league and had Carroll wondering why they weren’t winning.
However, the season turned around with their 1-0 win over Clovis North on Jan. 19 when senior Kyndel Bowman scored the lone goal. Since then, the Bears have run off nine straight wins.
“The girls deserve it, they could have quit on us half way through TRAC,” said Carroll, who is also the head coach of U14 boys for Cosmos and the head coach for the Fresno Freeze professional women’s team. “Instead, they stayed committed to each other, were focused and were a great group to be around.”
The team also featured freshman Taylor Phillips, who scored a goal in Buchanan’s 1-0 opening playoff win and one in the 2-0 semifinal win over Clovis.
“Our team has the strongest team chemistry I have experienced over my four years,” Marchini added. “That was also a huge factor to our success because we were all playing for each other.”
Buchanan will play in a regional game on Tuesday, March 6. Location is to be determined.