The Strathmore High girls soccer team was 15 minutes from making Central Section history.
Then another fantastic finish by Maranatha-Pasadena left the section still searching for its first victory on the state’s ultimate prep soccer stage.
The second-seeded Minutemen converted the equalizer in the 65th minute, then scored the go-ahead and insurance goals over the final 5 minutes to rally for a 3-1 victory Saturday over the top-seeded Spartans in the CIF Southern California Regional Division IV championship.
The Central Section was winless in eight previous trips to the regional championships, which began in 2008. And section teams are now 0-10 counting McFarland’s 5-1 loss to Coronado in the Division IV boys final Saturday. There isn’t a state championship in soccer because in Northern California boys play in the fall and girls in the spring.
“They worked so hard to get here,” Strathmore coach Hector Gonzalez said. “They wanted to make history and had a good opportunity to do so.”
The Spartans (23-3-1) opened a 1-0 lead in the 18th minute when Ally Holloway sent a free kick from near the right sideline to the far goalpost, where Taylor Alkire was waiting to knock home her 23rd goal of the season.
Strathmore then weathered 11 Minutemen shots on goal, with goalkeeper Judith Uribe making seven saves, to take that 1-0 lead into halftime.
Neither side did much in the first 15 minutes of the second half before Maranatha (24-6-2) turned it on similar to what it did in its regional semifinals when it overcame a 2-0 deficit with three second-half goals against Malibu.
Kin Spencer converted a feed from Morgan Howe to tie it. Then Howe gave the Minutemen the lead when she hammered a shot that ricocheted off the right post and into the net in the 75th minute. Ivahnna Espinoza followed with a breakaway goal in the 76th.
Strathmore the rest of the way managed just one more shot, which Maranatha goalkeeper Tatum French swallowed up.
“We have confidence,” Minutemen coach Robert Gurulé said. “We’ve been able to rally from behind before. We just had to keep our composure.”
The Spartans were making their second trip to the SoCal Regionals in four seasons, having lost 7-0 to Oak Christian-Westlake Village in D-III in 2012. Strathmore was awarded the No. 1 seed after winning the Central Section D-IV title, then opened the regionals with home-field victories over St. Genevieve-Panorama City (2-1) and Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies (4-1).
Strathmore started six players who are sophomores or younger against Maranatha, including Holloway and Alkire, and will have eight players returning who started Saturday.
“I thought we worked hard and gave it our all,” Holloway said. “It’s an accomplishment to make it this far. We’ve just got to work that much harder next year.”
Also among as many as 13 potential returning players is sophomore Samantha Oliveira, who led the Spartans with 40 goals.
“They have a taste of it now,” Gonzalez said. “Now, can they make another run at it? It’s a motivation now. We’re expecting a lot of great things from them in the years to come.”