With a second straight Central Section championship on the line, Liberty-Madera Ranchos turned to its stars.
And the stars shined bright on the big stage on their home field, leading the Hawks to a 2-1 victory over East-Bakersfield on Friday night in the Division III girls soccer final.
Raina Wristen scored her 27th goal in the first half and goalkeeper Michaela Motz made two brilliant saves to keep East at bay in a rematch of last year’s final in Bakersfield, also won 2-1 by Liberty.
“We had a huge target on our backs this year, every team going after us,” Motz said. “It’s amazing to finish this way.”
Wristen blew by a defender to receive a long ball with 9 minutes left in the first half and beat goalie Brooke McDonald with a shot to the far post to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead with her 27th goal.
“Raina is a money player,” Liberty coach Erick Walker said. “Offensively, we’ve fed off of her all year.”
Minutes later, East drew a penalty kick, but Motz stoned Odalys Espinoza’s try from the spot — and her subsequent point-blank rebound attempt — to preserve a 1-0 Hawks lead at halftime.
There was a similar turnaround in the second half. Emily Teutimez’s beautiful sinking, left-footed shot seemed destined to be the tying goal with 19 minutes left until Motz tipped it over the crossbar with her palm.
Within a minute, Liberty was racing the other way, with Wristen feeding Martha Ochoa for a goal and a 2-0 lead.
“Hawk soccer is pressuring all the time,” Walker said. “They were pressuring us in the second half and we came out kind of flat, but in that instant, we went coast to coast and that deflates that pressure.”
Still, the Blades spent most of the final 18 minutes pressuring Liberty’s goal; they finally broke through when sophomore Celeste Garcia scored from close range with about two minutes remaining.
D-IV: No. 1 Strathmore 4, No. 2 Bakersfield Christian 1 (OT) – The Spartans scored three times in overtime to clinch the championship and also remain unbeaten at home at 13-0.
Taylor Alkire scored in the first half for Strathmore and Ariana Castillo scored in the second half for the Eagles.
Tied 1-1 after regulation, Natalie Rico put the Spartans ahead in the first half of overtime and Rosalinda Platas and Brittany Hefner added goals in the second half to put it away.
D-VI: No. 1 Frazier Mountain 1, at No. 6 Firebaugh 0 (OT) – The Eagles held on with the defending-champoin Falcons through regulation only to fall after a second-overtime goal in Firebaugh.
D-II: No. 1 South 2, No. 2 Edison 0 – The Rebels made it a three-peat in Bakersfield, downing the Tigers for their third straight Central Section title and second in D-II.
South went in front just before halftime on a shot by freshman Alexis Rivas shot that went just over the head of goalkeeper Isaiah Asprec and pinged off the crossbar and into the back of the net for a goal. Ruben Gomez, who fed Rivas the assists, doubled the Rebels’ lead in the 65th minute on a 30-yard strike.
D-III: No. 1 Ridgeview 2, No. 10 Mission Oak 1 – Senior forward Christan Garcia scored his 32nd goal of the season in the first half and Hector Martinez headed in the winner with five minutes remaining in the game for the Wolf Pack in Bakersfield.
Defeating Mission Oak wasn’t easy.
After Garcia gave Ridgeview a 1-0 lead on a curling free kick from the top left side of the box just three minutes into the game, the Hawks dominated the rest of the first half.
Mission Oak had four shots on goal in the first 10 minutes. Three were thwarted by goalkeeper Frank Hinojosa. The other one was stopped by the leg of a heady Wolf Pack defender.
The Hawks got on the scoreboard in the 16th minute when Ozzie Gonzalez punched in a short volley from right in front of the far post off a long bouncing throw-in by Kyle Ellebracht.
D-V: No. 1 McFarland 1, No. 6 Fowler 0– The Cougars struck early, going ahead on Irvin Gonzalez’s goal just 3 minutes, 19 seconds into the match then held off the Redcats for their second straight Central Section crown.
D-VI: No. 1 Mendota 2, No. 2 Avenal 0 – Junior striker Danny Trejo converted a penalty kick in the 33rd minute and senior captain Enrique Orellana doubled the Aztecs’ lead in the second half to beat the defending-champion Buccaneers and remain undefeated at home at 8-0.
It was the third meeting between the two teams and the second time Mendota won by shutout, both results coming after a 4-3 loss to the Buccaneers on Jan. 19.
The Bakersfield Californian’s Zach Ewing, Trevor Horn and Stephen Lynch contributed to this report.