Most Viewed Stories
Huskies' late score ends Panthers' season
The night before Tuesday’s first round game in Div. III’s Central Valley Conference playoffs between No. 7 Porterville and No. 10 Hanford West, Huskies coach Heather Walkingstick conducted a team practice in less-than-favorable conditions.
“We practiced in the rain on the muddiest spots on our field,” Walkingstick said. “I thought if we practice in the worst conditions, it can’t be any worse than tonight.”
And because the Huskies had never played the Panthers in her five years as coach in Hanford, Walkingstick had her team prepared for the worst.
It turned out it wasn’t so bad after all.
Hanford forward Esmeralda Garcia scored in the game’s final two minutes to give her squad a 2-1 lead and a ticket to the next round to take on No. 2 Tehachapi.
The Panthers, a picture of silence and solemnity after the final whistle, were unable to score all night after forward Heather Hicks scored the team’s lone goal four minutes into it.
“We had a chance to finish (the Huskies) in the first half, but we didn’t,” Porterville coach Carlos Bravo said. “We let them build up the momentum and they got stronger and stronger.”
Aiding the Huskies’ cause was the sloppy field conditions at Jacob Rankin stadium — a field Walkingstick said was similar to their own turf in Hanford — which turned out to be the game’s equalizer.
“I felt that Porterville and us would be very fair-matched,” Walkingstick said. “And it really was. I was happy that finally we were able to finish it off with the free shot. That was our problem all year.”
After each team scored one goal apiece in the first 40 minutes, the two squads slipped and slid their way to a scoreless draw for most of the second half until Hanford drew a foul in the 38th minute.
Garcia lined up about 20 feet behind the ball, which sat a good 40 yards away from the net, drilling it over the defenders’ heads and into the upper right corner.
“My clock was beeping right when we hit that, and I wasn’t sure if they added injury time,” Walkingstick said.
Though neither team scored since Hanford got its first goal in the 27th minute of the first half off of Garcia’s header, they both had their nail-biting chances with shots that had both crowds thinking, “I can’t believe that didn’t go in.”
Hanford’s Hannah Harger had a pair of near-misses — both on the straightaway — that went just over the top. Porterville’s Sabrina Vallin fired a rocket that just missed the upper-right corner of the post, and Gabby Zendejas had a pair of her own misses, in addition to a no-call when she was taken down by an Andrea Statler slide tackle.
The Huskies also had several chances to capitalize on corner kicks with several headers just missing the posts, except of course, Garcia’s.
“We’ve been working on our headers,” Walkingstick said. “We told them if they could finish with (their heads), they can finish with anything.”
Bravo felt the Huskies’ height was a factor they couldn’t overcome.
“Their aerial game was really good because they have a lot of tall players,” Bravo said. “I thought we would get two or three (goals) right away on them, and we almost did. But ‘almost’ doesn’t count.”
Hicks thought the Panthers might have the game in their hands when she scored her goal from 10 yards on the left side and pumped her fist in confidence.
“That kinda got my hopes up and I thought, ‘Oh, we’ve got this,’” said Hicks, who is committed to playing for Fresno City College this fall. “But we had some stupid fouls right outside the box and we let them get away from us.”
The Panthers finished the season 13-7 overall and 9-3 in EYL.