A seventh straight win was well within Sky View's reach, a noteworthy accomplishment for a resilient girls soccer team that gamely bounced back from a six-game losing streak to open Region 11 play.
Unfortunately for the Bobcats, they were unable to capitalize on a couple of dangerous scoring opportunities and ultimately ended up losing in a shootout to top-seeded Crimson Cliffs in the first semifinal match of the 4A State Championships on Friday morning at Juan Diego High School. The two teams were knotted up at 1-1 following 100 minutes of action, and the Mustangs prevailed by a 3-2 scoreline in the shootout.
Indeed, Sky View was oh so close to earning the right to play at Rio Tinto Stadium for the first time since capturing the 4A title back in 2017.
"I'm so, so proud that these girls fought with their hearts and they worked so hard to really turn (our season) around, and they did in such a beautiful way," SV head coach Jillian Carver said.
It was a nervy shootout as both teams struggled to find the proper balance of placement and pace from the penalty spot. As a result, Crimson Cliffs goalkeeper Ellie Nielsen was able to make three saves, while Sky View counterpart Glace Glover stopped one penalty and got at least one hand on three others. Unfortunately for Glover the Bobcats, all three of those shots still found the back of the net, including what proved to be the game-winner.
"Grace is awesome, she's amazing and she got a hand on (those shots), and I'm super proud of her for giving her best," Carver said. "That's all you can ask."
Fourth-seeded Sky View was 2-0 in shootouts this season prior to Thursday's showdown, including a tense victory over fifth-seeded Green Canyon in last Saturday's quarterfinals. Amalia Fonua and Macy Hellstern converted from the penalty spot for the Bobcats on Thursday.
The Bobcats (12-8) got off to a rocky start Thursday as the Mustangs (17-2) only needed 46 seconds to dent the scoreboard. Kate Young carved out some space in the 18-yard box and fired a nice left-footed shot just inside the left post.
Conceding an early goal to an opponent that has now won 16 consecutive games would have been a backbreaker for a lot of teams, but Sky View's response was decisive and ideal. In fact, the Bobcats dictated play for large spells of the opening half.
"Yeah, our girls stepped up in such a big way," Carver said. "They didn't let (that early goal) get to them. They came out strong and hard, and really put up a good fight."
Sky View had three good chances to equalize within three minutes of Young's go-ahead goal. Hellstern and Laney Gibbons both put shots on frame, and Shyanne Stokes nearly had a breakaway for the Bobcats, but a speedy Crimson Cliffs defender was able to interfere just in the nick of time.
Sky View's persistence in the attack paid off in the 32nd minute when a Gibbons corner kick was headed in at the back post by Mia Morrison.
Glover came through with a big save a few minutes later to help the Bobcats go into the half tied at 1-1.
The Bobcats were much more choppy offensively in the second half and struggled to generate legitimate chances in the attacking third. Sky View did put four shots on goal in the half, but all of them were from distance and only one of them --- a low-driven strike by Gibbons --- tested Nielsen.
"I think (fatigue) definitely was (a factor)," Carver said. I mean, it's a long season we've been playing. I mean, we had to make some adjustments as well because of injured players, so I think the flow changed a little bit because of that."
In the process, the Bobcats conceded more possession to the Mustangs after halftime, but were still sharp and compact defensively. Sky View's Hannah Womack was outstanding from her center back position, and Glover came through with a clutch punch save over the goal on a Crimson Cliffs free kick in the 50th minute.
The Bobcats had a pair of prime scoring opportunities in the first overtime, including a shot by Macy Sickler that appeared to have Nielsen beat, but sailed about a half foot over the crossbar. The Mustangs squandered a couple of dangerous looks in the second OT.