SANDY — — For more than 90 minutes, the Mustangs were knocking on the door in their biggest girls soccer match in recent memory, and their persistence in the attack finally paid off, setting in motion a celebration nearly 25 years in the making.
Summer Sofonia buried a brilliant free kick from approximately 32 yards out less than one minute into the second overtime period, propelling Mountain Crest to a hard-fought 1-0 victory over the Crimson Cliffs Mustangs in the championship game of the 4A state tournament on a lovely Friday evening at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The freshman’s golden goal lifted second-seeded Mountain Crest (17-2) to its first state title since 1998. It was a well-earned one for the Mustangs from Cache Valley as they controlled the run of play for large stretches against top-seeded Crimson Cliffs (17-3). Mountain Crest survived some nervy moments against defending champion Ridgeline in Thursday’s second semifinal match and eventually prevailed in a shootout that went three extra rounds after 100 minutes of scoreless soccer.
“I mean, all the girls would admit it too that yesterday was not our best game, and so we were obviously happy to make it here today,” said MC head coach Amber Hyatt, whose team terminated Crimson Cliffs’ 16-match winning streak. “And I think just the overall atmosphere and everything, they just appreciated the moment, settled in and played their normal soccer that we’ve been playing all year. So, it was relieving to see.”
Simply put, Ridgeline did an outstanding job defensively against Mountain Crest’s potent offense, but the Region 11 champions were able to rediscover their attacking prowess Friday. Mountain Crest fired off 18 shots to Crimson Cliffs’ six and enjoyed a 11-3 advantage in shots on frame.
Unfortunately for the northern Mustangs, they weren’t quite clinical enough for 90-plus minutes but, to their credit, they stayed the course. Meanwhile, Crimson Cliffs didn’t not carve out a lot of chances, but four of them were dangerous ones.
“It was very nerve-wracking,” MC center back Brittney Egbert said. “It was a little scary (not finishing those chances) and that they were going to get their breakthrough, but we handled it pretty well.”
The breakthrough came in the 91st minute on Sofonia’s swerving right-footed strike that tucked inside the upper 90 of the far post.
“She’s done it for us before in the season already, where she’s had either an outside shot (or a free kick), but she always (puts) a good ball in, so I knew it was going to be successful either way,” Hyatt said. “And I just was walking up the sideline and I’m like, ‘I have a good feeling about this; this is going to be good.’”
Crimson Cliffs goalkeeper Ellie Nielsen shined Friday and during her side’s shootout victory over Sky View in the semifinals. The senior does a great job dealing with high shots, so Sofonia’s offering was especially sublime.
“She’s so good of a keeper and she’s really good with her hands, so just to get it past her means everything,” Sofonia said.
Thanks to one of the biggest shots in program history, Mountain Crest was finally able to collectively exhale. The northern Mustangs certainly had several opportunities to dent the scoreboard in regulation.
Mountain Crest received a huge boost from the return of standout forward Baylie Baldwin, who was shaken up late in the semifinals and was kept out of the shootout. The speedy senior wreaked havoc at times Friday as a goal scoring threat and a distributor.
Baldwin carved out a handful of prime chances in the attack, pinged one shot off the post and missed two others by inches. No. 12 was the recipient of well-delivered passes by Amelia Zilles and Sadiez Crystal on two of those shots. Baldwin finished with six shots and all of them were taken inside the 18-yard box.
“Baylie’s a big part of our success and she just is a work horse,” Hyatt said. “She’s that player that never gives up, so when I asked her this morning and even last night, I’m like, ‘how are we doing?’ You know, she’s like, ‘I’m feeling good, I’m ready to play.’ And I was like so relieved, so relieved.”
Zilles tested Nielsen on a couple of shots from distance, and Hadli Barrera also had some good opportunities to find the back of the net, including one after receiving a square ball from Ali Myers.
Mountain Crest’s back four of Egbert, Rhauli Barrera, Bentli Barrera and Sofonia put together another solid performance, plus keeper Dakota Andersen came up huge when called upon. Andersen stoned Crimson Cliffs star forward Jantzyn Losee on a one-v-one in the 64th minute. Losee easily paced the southern Mustangs with 18 goals this season.
“I think we play well together,” Egbert said of her side’s strong defensive presence. “We back each other up, so I knew we would have (each other’s) backs when we would mess up. I mean, I trust my team.”
Mountain Crest only conceded one goal in 271 minutes in its three state tourney matches. Additionally, the northern Mustangs, who received another great effort from holding midfielder Brynleigh Ritche, finished the season with 11 shutouts.
“You know, it’s always fun to score goals and the offense is always the ones that people look at, but defense wins championships, and that absolutely did that today,” Hyatt said. “And so I’m very proud of them, very proud of Dakota. It was an all-around team effort, but our defense definitely came through.”
Ridgeline (10-8) became the only team to shut out Mountain Crest this season, plus the third-seeded Riverhawks also created some dangerous scoring chances late in the second half and during both overtimes. However, the Mustangs withstood the late pressure and were pretty clinical in the shootout, converting on 6 of 8 shots from the penalty spot.
“I was so nervous to play Ridgeline because we had (already) played them two times this season, and I think it’s really hard to beat a team three times,” Sofonia admitted following Friday’s title match.
Egbert, Sadie Coggins, Andie Andrus, Ritchie, Hadli Barrera and Lexie Coggins all buried their penalties for Mountain Crest, as did Ridgeline’s Reese Heninger, Halle Smith, Emilee Skinner, Saige Wiser and Carly Eubanks.
“We feel great about the effort of stringing two halves together, plus two overtimes together on the front foot this time, as opposed to the last two times we played them (MC),” RHS head coach Mark Tureson said. “And when it gets down to those fine margins of getting a toe on (a good scoring chance) or not, you go to PKs and it’s anybody’s game. And this time we didn’t come out on top, so it gives us something to work on for next year.”
In the other semifinal match, Crimson Cliffs edged fourth-seeded Sky View (12-8) 3-2 in the shootout. The Mustangs took the lead 46 seconds into the match and the Bobcats equalized 32 minutes later when Mia Morrison headed in a Laney Gibbons free kick. There were no other goals the rest of the way.
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, 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 and the Bobcats, all three of those shots still found the back of the net, including what proved to be the game-winner.
Amalia Fonua and Macy Hellstern converted on their PKs for the Bobcats, who had their six-match winning streak snapped. Sky View gamely salvaged its season after losing its first six games in region play.
“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 rough 4A state soccer tournament for Preston, which suffered a couple of key injuries in Thursday’s 4-0 to No. 2 Hillcrest in the quarterfinals. The seventh-seeded Indians (10-7-2) were eliminated from the tourney by sixth-seeded Canyon Ridge by a 4-1 scoreline on Friday in Caldwell, Idaho.
Preston only trailed Hillcrest 1-0 at halftime, and “possessed for most of the first half,” head coach Kira Matthews asserted. Unfortunately for the Indians, starters Hunter Facer and Bryan Bustos were sidelined with season-ending injuries, “and we just fell apart halfway through the second half.”
Preston, which had its eight-match unbeaten streak snapped Thursday, then fell behind 3-0 in the first half in Friday’s consolation bracket game. Bryan Ricaldi found the back of the net for the Indians after halftime, assisted by Emmett Waechtler.
It was still a breakthrough season for Preston, which qualified for state for the first time since 2014.
“It was a great season,” Matthews said. “Our program is building and getting better. I had an amazing group of seniors that gave it their all and it was a great experience for the rest of (the players) because we should be right back here next year.”