The Lady Hornets bookended the Southern California Regional Championships at Mt. San Antonio College with victories on Friday and Saturday night, but dropped a crucial semifinal game to San Diego Mesa that ended the team’s bid to repeat as State Champions.
After dispatching Mt. SAC 14-8 in the opening round, the Lady Hornets were looking forward to a rematch with nemesis Riverside in the finals. All Fullerton needed to do was make it past Mesa to advance to the championship game, which would have automatically qualified them for the state finals.
Unfortunately, the Lady Hornets picked a bad time to go cold and dropped the all-important semifinal game 9-6.
“We just went cold,” said head coach Gabriel Martinez. “We had so many open shots that we would have normally put on-net, but today they went wide or over the bar.”
Martinez also pointed to his girls hesitating on open looks too many times.
The game was tied 6-6 heading into the fourth quarter, but Mesa’s 2M player Bailey Wickliffe added a score right away to put Fullerton in a hole the rest of the game.
With time winding down and the score 7-6, the Lady Hornets were forced to take some chances defensively, trying to set up scoring opportunities. The over aggressive defense allowed Mesa to move the ball inside and extend the lead with a couple more goals.
Martinez admitted that they got overextended in the fourth trying to create some offense and it cost them.
The Lady Hornets normally rely on leading scorer Destiny Hernandez heavily in big games, but her shot went completely cold against Mesa. Hernandez came into the tournament averaging six goals-per-game, but failed to score a goal.
Hernandez shook off the bad game and carried the Lady Hornets in the third-place game against Golden West, finishing with six goals.
The Lady Hornets jumped out to an early lead against the Rustlers thanks to two goals by Hernandez in under two minutes.
The Rustlers worked hard to pace the Lady Hornets for most of the first half, but the Lady Hornets tightened up the defense and pulled away 6-3 down the stretch. Fullerton goalkeeper Erica McFeggan held the Rustlers scoreless the final four minutes of the half.
The Rustlers wouldn’t go quietly, outscoring the Lady Hornets in the third to make it a two-goal game, 9-7. McFeggan came through for Fullerton to end the second half too, holding the Rustlers scoreless the entire fourth quarter. The Lady Hornets added two more goals to make it a 11-7 and secure third place.
Martinez admitted that the loss was a bitter pill to swallow, but said coming back to win the third place game took a little bit of the sting off of it. He added that he was proud of the girls for playing hard all season.
Riverside defeated San Diego Mesa in the final to take home the regional title. Both RCC and SDM will advance to the State Championship Tournament to take on the top-two seeds from the north regional next weekend at Pasadena City College.
Although the Lady Hornets (26-5) fell one game short in its bid to compete for a second consecutive state championship, there is plenty of reason for optimism. Fullerton will have 11 freshman returning and Martinez added that he has plans to restock the team with some talented incoming freshman in 2016.