Regardless of a league unbeaten streak that stretches more than two years, the Arroyo Grande High girls soccer team did not feel much like the favored squad heading into Friday’s PAC 8 showdown at rival San Luis Obispo.
The Eagles were coming off an emotional victory over Righetti two days prior, playing their third game in five days and doing so on a field that none of them — including coach Bob Wilson — had won on.
A pair of juniors found the back of the net to change that.
Demi Wack scored a game-tying goal, Brie Welch added the go-ahead tally in overtime, and Arroyo Grande overcame a late San Luis Obispo surge with the help of two fortuitous calls to win 2-1.
“Oh my gosh that was stressful,” Eagles senior defender Summer Soriano said. “Our defense has been strong this entire season, but we knew everyone on that team was a strong player.
“We just were hoping that the refs’ calls were going to come our away, and it ended up working out for us.”
After Welch, a junior committed to Pepperdine, scored her 20th goal of the season as the first overtime came to a close, the final 10 minutes saw all the Tigers push forward in hopes of finding the equalizer.
And oh, how close they came.
With five minutes remaining, San Luis Obispo sophomore midfielder Grace Park drove toward the net and was tripped at the edge of 18-yard box. The referee determined the foul occurred outside the box, resulting in a close-range free kick instead of a penalty shot.
Senior striker Sydney Knauer, who is expected to sign Wednesday to play at Cal Poly, sent in a shot that hit the wall of Eagles defenders, but the rebound bounced around, was eventually lofted into the air and then headed into net by classmate Kelsey Shetler.
However, as the Tigers and their supporters began to celebrate, the goal was waved off and Shetler was ruled offsides.
“I didn’t think she was offsides, but obviously, that’s up to the ref’s discretion,” San Luis Obispo coach Kaleena Andruss said. “If he called the original offsides, that’s what he sees and that’s what he’s going to stick with. Unfortunate result for us.”
The Tigers (6-8-2, 4-4-1) were the last PAC 8 team to defeat Arroyo Grande (17-0-2, 9-0-1), shutting the Eagles out 2-0 at home on Jan. 11, 2013.
“It is a big rivalry,” said Soriano, a Southern Utah commit who was named the league’s best defender as a sophomore and PAC 7 MVP as a junior. “We always know that no matter who’s on their team or who’s on our team that it’s going to be a great game.”
Following a scoreless first half, San Luis Obispo got on the board first when Park’s long-range shot was stopped by goalkeeper Samantha Henkel, but the rebound fell to three Tigers, and senior Sierra Nunes finally tapped it in.
The 1-0 advantage was short-lived, though, as Wack came flying down the right wing from her defensive back position six minutes later to rip a loose ball into the short side of the net and even the match.
“She seems to be that girl that makes that play happen when no one else is doing it,” Eagles coach Bob Wilson said. “She knows to keep coming up, and she read it.”
Welch’s goal came when she took a touch into the box and fired a left-footed shot across her body and into the right side of the goal past sophomore keeper Haley Block.
“We’re still young and we’re still learning,” said Andruss, whose team graduated seven seniors from last year’s second-place squad. “Our season has been been all ups and downs. We’ve had high moments and low moments; moments of brilliance and others not so good. They’re slowly figuring it out.”
On the other side, the Eagles continue to grind out one positive result after another. They haven’t lost since last year’s CIF-Southern Section Division 3 second round, and they haven’t given up more than two goals in any match this season.
But even winning comes at a cost, and when Wilson gathered with his players after the most recent victory and announced two consecutive days off, you’d have thought another goal had just gone in given the cheer.
“We were a little beat up,” Soriano said. “We have a lot of nagging injuries that we haven’t had in past seasons, but coming into the game our coach said it was going to be all about heart.
“We were beat up, they were beat up, but we knew we had to play our game, play with heart and not give up.”
Arroyo Grande 2, San Luis Obispo 0
Matthew Bautista scored in the first half, Joseph Goryance added an insurance tally in stoppage time, and the visiting Eagles upended the Tigers to create a logjam for second place in the PAC 8.
Pioneer Valley holds the first-place spot (9-1-0) after a 2-1 win over Righetti on Friday.
San Luis Obispo falls to 6-2-2 in league (14-2-3 overall), while Arroyo Grande improves to 6-3-1 in PAC 8 and 11-6-2 overall. Paso Robles improved to 6-2-2 with a win over St. Joseph.
Both the Tigers and Eagles had plenty of scoring chances in this one.
Moments after Bautista broke through, Peter Delkeskamp had a close-range opportunity for San Luis Obispo, but his bending shot failed to curl into the right side of the net and went wide, and Brian Finger’s second-half opportunity sailed high.
Brayden Mahoney kept the deficit at one with a one-handed save on a Juan Jazo breakaway, and Arroyo Grande’s Hosanna Cassidy executed a jaw-dropping bicycle kick for a goal, but was called for pushing off.
After the Tigers thought they dodged another close call with defender Emmett Fox-Pendergrast clearing the ball off the goalline late in the match, Goryance followed with a one-timer blast from just inside the 18-yard box.