There would be no final comeback for the Clovis East High girls soccer team this time.
But the Timberwolves do expect to be back on this stage again after starting just one senior in a 5-3 loss to Taft-Woodland Hills during the opening round of the CIF Southern California Regional Division I playoffs Tuesday.
Top-seeded Clovis East, which rallied in three playoff games en route to capturing the school’s first Central Section girls soccer title, found itself down 1-0 and 3-1 against No. 8 Taft, the Los Angeles City Section Division I champ.
But after forcing a 3-3 tie on Nikki Crouch’s goal in the 59th minute, the Timberwolves (21-1-3) ran out of comebacks as the Toreadors (23-3-4) scored twice in a 5-minute span to take control and bring an end to the best season in Clovis East history.
“This definitely was not as we hoped,” Clovis East junior standout Peyton Kwalwasser said. “We keep going down early in games, but we didn’t come back stronger in this one. It’s disappointing, but we’ll come back next year. This game shouldn’t take away from what we did this season. I’m very proud of this team.”
The Timberwolves placed second at the Harold S. Young Tournament, won the girls Premier A division at the Garces Holiday Soccer Festival and won the school’s second Tri-River Athletic Conference title and rose to a No. 8 national ranking by topdrawersoccer.com during a breakout performance for the 16-year program.
“I’ve always had some good players, but we’ve just never won games,” eighth-year coach Jasara Gillette said. “But these girls put Clovis East on the map because they had a belief. They had the belief to win this year.”
The Timberwolves played with only two substitutes after losing five key contributors – including two of the team’s three seniors in defenders Denissia Vega and Mandy Reyes – to injury over the past seven weeks.
And they were playing catch-up from the get-go when Mickey Kohavi’s shot bounced past goalkeeper Danielle Cedillo, who looked to be in position to make the save, only for the ball to bounce past.
Taft also scored on a perfectly placed corner by Jennifer Veliz that Kohavi knocked in, a shot just under the top post and out of reach of a leaping Cedillo by Keyonna Hill, a deflection off the left post back into the net on a shot by Kelly Diaz and a second Hill goal off a Diaz cross.
Ariah Cheng’s goal for Clovis East tied the score at 1-1 in the 25th minute, Catalina Phe’s goal cut the Timberwolves’ deficit to 3-2 in the 49th minute and Crouch scored after Taft goalie Megan Fox couldn’t control a sliding challenge to Carissa Wight’s breakaway.
The Timberwolves had two good looks and two penalty shots in the closing minutes but couldn’t push any past Fox and the Toreadors’ defense.
“It won’t be easy next year. We’ll have to learn how to be the hunted,” Gillette said. “But I think they will use this as motivation to work harder so they don’t feel this feeling again.”
Division II – Serena Fahey contributed two goals and an assist as No. 3 El Camino Real-Woodland Hills downed No. 6 Madera South 3-0.
The two-time defending Central Section D-II champion Stallions finish 20-6-3.
Division III – Freshman Amelia Corpuz-Carr scored twice as No. 3 San Luis Obispo topped No. 6 Liberty-Madera Ranchos 4-0.
The Hawks, who have won consecutive section D-III titles and played in four straight finals, finish 20-5-2.
Division IV – Taylor Alkire scored in each half – her 49th and 50th goals of the season – to power No. 2 Strathmore over No. 7 Northridge Academy 2-0.
Alkire’s first goal came in the 11th minute and her second in the 53rd for the Spartans (25-3).
Strathmore, which was the regional D-IV runner-up last season, will host No. 3 Moorpark at 4 p.m. Thursday in the semifinals. Moorpark (20-3-4) advanced with a 2-1 victory over No. 6 Alta Loma.
Division V – Sarah Solis and Tori DeLeon scored two goals apiece to lead No. 4 Fowler to the school’s first state or regional team playoff victory in any sport, 5-2 over No. 5 Frazier Mountain.
Solis’ first goal just before halftime gave the Redcats (24-3-1) a lead they would not relinquish. DeLeon’s first goal early in the second-half provided the deciding point. Bethany Lucio also scored for Fowler.
The Redcats will travel to face No. 1 Grace Brethren-Simi Valley at 4 p.m. Thursday in the semifinals. Grace Brethren (23-4) advanced with a 5-0 defeat of No. 8 Port of Los Angeles.