The seventh-seeded St. Helena High girls soccer team fell to No. 10 Lower Lake, 1-0, at home in a CIF North Coast Section Div. 1 playoff opener Wednesday night.
Lyzet Montanez scored with just seven minutes left at Bob Patterson Memorial Field, sending the Trojans to the quarterfinals.
“It was a difficult defeat for sure,” said St. Helena head coach Tash Bunge. “First, congratulations to Lower Lake. We played them twice, beat them twice, all close games just like it was today. It could’ve gone either way. They played very well, I thought we played well. I thought it was a very difficult defeat.”
Making the loss more difficult to take was that the Saints beat the Trojans in both North Central League I meetings this year, 2-1 and 4-3.
The difference between those games and this one?
“We scored goals early,” Bunge said. “We just couldn’t score tonight. We just couldn’t get shots off.”
St. Helena had plenty of chances to score, but the play of Lower Lake goalkeeper Michele Bautista stymied any attack.
The closest the Saints came to finding the back of the net came in the game’s waning minutes, while they were already trailing 1-0. Andrea Hernandez lined up a free kick from about 25 yards out, but the senior’s shot sailed just inches over the crossbar.
“Ugh, that free kick, I thought it was in because it was still elevating,” Bunge said.
Earlier in the second half, sophomore Tina Almanza looped a shot from 20 yards away that curved towards the goal but was snagged by Bautista. The Saints had a few chances at goal in the first half as well, the best opportunity coming in the 17th minute when the ball sprung loose in front of Lower Lake’s goal. A mad scramble followed, but none of the Saints in the box could get off a strong shot.
“I just feel like they came on pretty strong,” said Hernandez. “We were strong too, but today they beat us. I feel like it’s just we had the same level but they just won.”
The Saints admitted after the game that their track record of previous success against Lower Lake this season was in their minds entering Wednesday. That may have played into their slow start.
“A little bit, a little bit, but I think we also instilled – me and coach Ozzie Gallegos – in them that this is the playoffs,” Bunge said. “They really didn’t have that many shots on us, but the shot that they scored was a bit of a rebound that came off of the keeper and then into the goal. … We never really got a solid shot off them.
“Tonight was a bit of an anomaly, I think. We definitely didn’t play up to our normal standards. But again, Lower Lake really took us off our game a little bit so they should be congratulated.”
Bunge also took time to praise the five seniors from this year’s team.
“I’m mostly saddened for our seniors, Jenna Schlatter, Citlali Garcia, Blayney Adamson, Elliot Dunham and Andrea Garcia, who are absolutely phenomenal players but moreso phenomenal people,” Bunge said. “They really showed the lowerclassmen how it is to be a senior and how to guide them. I’ve been fortunate to coach them for a couple years and I’ve known them for a couple years because my daughter played with them.”
Bunge expressed optimism about the future, amid disappointment about the present.
“I’m looking forward to next year. I think we’re going to have another really good season,” he said. “but this one really hurts. It really does hurt a lot. … But as the days go by, I think we’ll look fondly back on this season and that it was a success.
“St. Helena girls soccer is just a strong program, and I really want to keep it going. That’s my goal for next season.”