For all the points that Ryen Darling has produced this season -- and there have been a team-leading 19 goals and 10 assists -- it was the dirty work she did Wednesday that propelled Bullard High into the Central Section girls soccer finals.
Darling drew fouls in the box twice that led to penalty kicks, the second of which Erin Banda converted in the 79th minute as the fifth-seeded Knights upset top-seeded Clovis North 2-1 in a Division I semifinal.
Bullard advances to play at second-seeded Buchanan at 11 a.m. Saturday in the first game of a girls/boys championship doubleheader between the Knights and Bears.
The boys game is scheduled for 1 p.m., weather permitting.
If the field at Buchanan is deemed unplayable, the girls game would be pushed to 3 p.m. Tuesday and the boys to 3 p.m. Wednesday, Bears Athletic Director James Gambrell said.
The game-deciding play unfolded with Darling and Clovis North defender Katrina Thompson battling on a run up the right flank just before the end of regulation.
As they tangled, Darling went down in the box and that drew the penalty.
"Both calls were legit," Darling said. "If I know a player is on me, I'm going to try and get the foul if I can't take it myself."
Broncos coach Nick Pappanduros saw it differently.
"I can understand the first PK. I can go with that one, but the last one was terrible," Pappanduros said.
"It was a 50-50 ball. She flopped and everyone saw it. For him to give a PK at that point in the game is unbelievable."
Knights coach Onesta Francis said he believed the calls were correct, especially considering they came against a player as talented as the sophomore Darling.
"You're always asking for it when defending in the box. If you go swinging and don't get the ball, you're in trouble," Francis said. "(Clovis North) played really well and they are a tough back line to get through. They had been double-teaming Ryen the whole game. But one player can't defend Ryen. And on both plays (that Darling drew fouls), she got a one-on-one.
"In that case, the defender has to made a tough decision."
With the game on the line after Darling drew the second foul, Banda calmly stepped up and drilled her penalty kick wide left, well out of the reach of diving Broncos goalkeeper Riana Castaneda, who minutes earlier had stopped a hard shot from Kylee Strausser to preserve the 1-1 tie.
"I always like to look before I take a PK," Banda said. "I just picture it going in, and that helped me."
Bullard (20-5-1) returns to the final for the first time since winning the D-I title in 2011.
It's been an up and down season for the Knights, who were denied a top-four playoff seed despite winning the County/Metro Athletic Conference title because of two losses to Tri-River Athletic Conference runner-up Buchanan and one loss to conference third-place finisher Central.
Bullard played most of the season without key defenders in Breanna Kriss -- lost in December to a leg injury -- and Ayasha Hunley, who played in only her second game Wednesday afternoon because of injury.
"We feel we've been through the first and it's our time to play good soccer now," said Francis, who credited the leadership provided in tough times by co-captains Banda, Sara Kast (who scored the Knights' first goal in the 66th minute) and Gabrielle Grieser.
"They found a way to keep the team together when there were moments we could have splintered."
Clovis North (17-5-1) scored first when Darby Emmons connected off a cross from Kacy Dunn, who had redirected a free kick from Kelsee Pottorff. The Broncos were seeking their first D-I title.
"Both sides played their hearts out," Pappanduros said. "We were playing great soccer. It's just unfortunate the refs took the game out of our hands. I mean shame on us for not converting some of the easy ones we had, but it's just a disappointing way to end."
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6103, email@example.com or (559) 441-6103.