STOCKTON – The rain came down steadily throughout most of the match. The tears of joy didn’t arrive until the final outstanding save by goaltender Amanda Leal helped the Delta Mustangs make history.
Delta and Hartnell played tense, scoreless soccer through regulation and two overtimes before going to penalty kicks as dusk encompassed the Mustangs’ home pitch on Tuesday. Leal was outstanding and the Mustangs won on kicks 3-1 in the Northern California semifinals to qualify for the state championship for the first time in the program’s history.
When Leal swatted away a final attempt by Hartnell’s Belinda Ascencio, the Mustangs, their coaches and a number of their fans rushed on to the field to celebrate. Olivia Ritter, a third-year sophomore, felt the tears well in her eyes.
“I started crying as soon as the whistle blew because I was overwhelmed with emotion,” Ritter said. “I don’t been have words to explain how great this feels.”
The seventh-seeded Mustangs (19-3-3) made it to the regional semifinals for the third year in a row, and finally broke through to the state finals. Delta finished third in the Big 8 Conference, moved their home opener of the playoffs to Fresno because of poor air quality in Stockton, and last week had to go on the road to beat No. 2 Folsom Lake to setup up its matchup with No. 11 Hartnell.
“I’m really proud of them, this was our goal at the start of the year,” Delta head coach Adrienne Sorenson said. “To be able to play for a state championship is a pretty amazing thing.
“It wasn’t easy. We’ve won ugly, we’ve won pretty, we’ve won big, we’ve won one-nil. They find a way.”
The Panthers (15-7-3) made it to Stockton by beating No. 3 Clovis on penalty kicks. The Mustangs pushed the action all day, outshooting Hartnell 19-3. The Panthers were saved several times by goaltender Lexandra Retamoza, and as the match moved into OT, they seemed satisfied to play defense and take their chances in penalty kicks.
Hartnell scored on its first shot, but then Leal, a sophomore and product of Kimball High, made a decision.
“I watched that ball go in, and I was like ‘it’s not happening again,’ ” Leal said. “I just locked in. I wanted to do it for my coaches and my team.”
Leal kept her word, and the Mustangs couldn’t miss. Jaylin Meza tied it up, and after a diving save by Leal, Jay Her put Delta up 2-1. Leal turned away another Hartnell offering, Kylie Zentner scored and pushed the Panthers to the edge of elimination.
Leal stopped Ascencio, and it was over.
“Amanda is extremely athletic, and today it came down to focus and she was able to make reads on the plays,” Sorenson said. “She’s grown so much in the last year-and-a-half, maybe more than anyone else on our team. She’s been a huge key for us.”
Sorenson pointed out that making it to states was a great accomplishment, and the Mustangs aren’t done yet. The Final Four begins Friday at Ventura College.
“It’s indescribable,” Leal said. “I’m just really excited for us to be able to go and take this on together.”
By Scott Linesburgh
Record Staff Writer