The Pioneer Valley Panthers faced two tough challenges in Friday night’s girls’ soccer match against the Arroyo Grande Eagles in Santa Maria.
The first — the always powerful Eagles who came in undefeated in PAC 8 League play.
The second — the wind; it was brutal from start to finish.
Unfortunately, the Panthers (3-9-3, 2-2-1 PAC 8) couldn’t overcome either as the Eagles stretched their PAC 8 record to 5-0 (6-1-4 overall) with a 2-0 victory at Panthers Stadium.
“It wouldn’t be Santa Maria without the wind,” said Pioneer Valley head coach Gabe Velasco shortly before kickoff.
“The wind really bothered us, especially when we had to go against it in the first half,” said Arroyo Grande head coach John Clarke. “Getting out of here with a win in this wind is amazing.”
Going against the wind, Arroyo Grande’s Kiley Johnson beat Pioneer Valley goal keeper Sara Rodriguez in the 15th minute of the first half to put the Eagles up 1-0 in what turned out to be the game-winner.
Then Molly Autio blasted an insurance goal in the 22nd minute of the second half for the only other goal of the game.
“Our defense was fantastic. The girls did a really good job,” said Clarke. “This was our third shutout in a row. I tell the girls that we want shutouts. If they concentrate on defense, the scoring will come.”
With a steady 25 mile an hour wind blowing in from the northwest, balls that were inbounded from the west sideline regularly sailed right back out of bounds.
Several of the inbounds passes from the east sideline sailed all the way across the field and rolled out of bounds.
Anything kicked in the air was pushed toward the west sideline.
The wind lofted a dozen shots on goal high above the football goalposts.
A lot of time was spent just trying to get the ball inbounds.
But both teams had to deal with the wind.
Both coaches implored their players to keep the ball low to overcome the wind’s effect.
The Eagles were the aggressors from the start with most of the game played on Pioneer Valley’s half of the field.
They were finally able to keep the ball low enough to get a shot on goal in the 11th minute that Rodriguez smothered.
In the 15th minute, Arroyo Grande mounted its first sustained attack.
Autio sent a low pass to Johnson but Pioneer Valley’s Natalie Needham caught up to Johnson and knocked the ball away.
Autio was on the ball immediately and sent another low pass to Allie Palangi who turned and fired away. Again Rodriguez made the save.
But she blocked the ball back into the field of play where Lexi Wolf pounced on it, sent it to Johnson who fired a low shot past Rodriguez for the game’s first score.
Pioneer Valley almost scored a goal right after that when Andrea Aguilera’s shot hit the crossbar and bounced in the goal mouth before A.G. goal keeper Paige Canby kicked it away.
The referee ruled that ball did not cross the goal line, much to the dismay of the Panthers players and fans.
Arroyo Grande stayed aggressive and several times got in place for a good shot only to have Pioneer Valley defenders knock the ball out of bounds.
The Panthers lost Needham in the 30th minute when she re-injured her left thigh. Needham spent the rest of the night with ice packs wrapped around her thigh.
“We should have taken more shots in the first half. We just didn’t take enough shots when we had the wind at our back,” said Velasco. “And it really hurt us when we lost Natalie. She’s one of our best players. But Sasha (Brafman) was all over the field,
In the second half, Arroyo Grande had the wind at its back.
The pattern of the first half continued until Autio blasted a shot past Rodriguez.
Autio started the play by with an inbounds pass that bounced off a Pioneer Valley player and right back to Autio at the 15-yard line. Autio took one step into the ball kicked a wind-aided shot into the net.
“Molly is our ‘pivot’. Everything goes through her on offense and defense,” said Clarke. “She sees everything. She always keeps the ball in front of her so she’s a cornerstone of our defense and the quarterback of our offense.”
“In the second half, we were down a goal and had to press the attack,” said Velasco. “But that left us vulnerable and they were able to take advantage.”
Over the next five minutes, the Eagles tested Rodriguez over and over again, sending five shots her way that she covered and two more that sailed high over the goal posts.
“We had that stretch where we had four ties at the end of our preseason. I think we found a little magic after that Nipomo game (a 1-1 tie at the end of preseason),” said Clarke. “I knew it would take some time but we’re rounding into form nicely.”
Canby had seven save for Arroyo Grande.
Rodriguez had 10 saves for Pioneer Valley.
Both teams continue PAC 8 action Tuesday on the road. Arroyo Grande plays at San Luis Obispo while Pioneer Valley is at Atascadero.
Pioneer Valley 1, Arroyo Grande 1 (OT)
The Eagles and Panthers battled to an overtime tie in a PAC 8 boys' soccer match at Arroyo Grande High.
Gopala Sauer scored for the Eagles in the first half to put Arroyo Grande up 1-0.
Later in the half, Pioneer Valley’s Josue Chavez scored on a penalty kick to tie the game.
It stayed that way through the second half and two 10-minute overtime periods.
“The weather in Arroyo Grande was much better than the girls’ game my daughter (Sasha) played in at Pioneer Valley,” said Pioneer Valley head coach Alan Brafman. “We thought Rigoberto Maldonado scored on a breakaway in the first half but the referee called the goal off. In the second half, Sebastian Ochoa, Rigo and Jonathan Viera all got off great shots but we couldn’t score.”
Pioneer Valley hosts Atascadero next Tuesday while Arroyo Grande hosts San Luis Obispo.
Shandon 65, Valley Christian 46
Valley Christian fell to 1-1 in Coast Valley League play with a loss to Shandon.
Ethan McCoy led VCA with 12 points and John Mussack added 11. Andrew Sparlin (8) Isak Deming (6), Jarrett Smith (6) and Jared Moore (3) rounded out VCA’s scoring.
VCA hosts Maricopa in CVL action next Tuesday.